Sunday, May 3, 2020

Week 7 of Shutdown: TB vs Covid-19

My maternal grandmother died in 1930 when my Mom was almost 9 but my Mom didn't remember her being at home with the family because she had been in a TB sanatorium since my Mom was quite young. She did remember having to have TB tests every few months for years as a child and standing outside a building with her younger brother one Easter so their Mom could see them through the window.

Why do I bring this up? Well, TB was endemic for centuries until post WWII and killed about 60,000 people in the US every year for decades and decades. The development of an antibiotic that can treat it changed its impact. It is also an airborne disease in expelled droplets from coughing or even breathing just like Covid-19. Unlike smallpox for which there is a vaccine, TB still is with us and continues to kill although at a much lower rate since treatment is available although drug resistant strains have emerged.

The difference between TB and Covid-19 was that TB could take years to kill you even infecting you as a child and not being evident as a disease until you were an adult or lying dormant for decades before becoming active. Not the case with what we are experiencing as far as we know.

I'm still working my way through the book Epidemics and Society and am obviously in the TB chapter. What I am finding interesting is the extensive public health campaigns that occurred to change behavior and get diagnoses once the cause of TB and scientific evidence of how to reduce its transmission was known but before there was an antibiotic that worked. We are falling far short in this arena right now. I'm not trying to diminish the abuses that occurred in the quest to defeat TB, just saying that lots of resources were dedicated to identifying and trying to treat those infected and to slow the spread.

Of all the diseases that I have read about so far in this book - plague, smallpox and others - TB seems to be the most like what we are experiencing in terms of transmission vectors and appropriate ways to reduce infection and death rates until there is a cure. It also seems very similar to the 1918 flu pandemic in terms of infection ease.



This is not the first time society has had to deal with something like this although it is the first time almost all of us have had to cope with this type of situation.

13 comments:

  1. That book sounds weirdly interesting ... maybe it's the times. My dad had TB in the early '50s, went to a sanatorium for 6 months, was out of work for a year, but he recovered. I had the TB test once. It showed positive. I had been exposed, but never got sick. Does that mean I'm immune to COVID? (I doubt it!)

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    1. Totally different diseases! It is true that many people have TB but their body has isolated it so it is inactive (according to the author). And lots of people did go on to live long lives.

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  2. I can't avoid seeing information about covid and how to steer clear so I'm not sure what you mean by no extensive health campaign.

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    1. They were doing the contact tracing, testing, ensuring treatment, public health campaigns that were consistent, etc. There is good info out there about covid but not yet at that level and there is lots of misinformation.

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    2. TB had decades and decades of time to get up to speed - covid has been in existence for mere months. I'm sure we'll see what you expect given more time.

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    3. I think Juhli's point is that there was constency across the board nationally, from the treatment, to the testing from the very beginning.and everyone was comletely up front, my parents generation did not have to sift through the mess to find out what was ture and what was not.

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    4. I find it hard to believe it could exist from the beginning. Anything as comprehensive takes time to develop.

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  3. My mother was raised by her grandparents in rural Nebraska. Her father was the oldest of 6 children. The youngest daughter, who was 12 years older than my mother, contracted TB. Photos show her as a stunningly beautiful young woman. I don't know how old she was when she became ill; I know she was 26 when she died and had been ill for years. She had a beau, whom she would have married if she had been well, but instead he was a devoted companion throughout her short life. Her illness was spent in the home with the rest of the family. My mother was a great one for not talking about 'private family matters' even to us in the family (!), so I don't know anything about what kind of steps might have been taken to keep other family members from contracting it, but all other family members avoided getting it, which still amazes me.

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    1. That is quite a sad story. There were all sorts of protocols used to help reduce transmission and some were even effective. By the time my grandmother was actively ill I think removal from the home was quite common or she might have been too ill to stay home. Her children and husband did not catch it but at least one other of her siblings and possibly her mother also died of TB. My Mom simply didn't know much about the situation and of course it wasn't talked about with young children.

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  4. So very right. We need more testing and contact tracing. I know it is difficult in this day and age because we travel a great deal more, but it could be done.

    God bless.

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    1. Agree! A public health professor friend of ours and her colleagues are volunteering in Maryland to lead teams to do the contact tracing. Some states will get this right and some will ignore it.

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  5. That book sounds more and more interesting every time you share something from it.

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    1. It is very interesting but I am finding that the more modern it gets the less I can read at a time. Still want very much to finish it though.

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