Infectious disease has always been with us and some of the most common ones involves the lungs and airways. One of these, Tuberculosis, was a disease that occurred in pandemic proportions in the past. From kings (Edward VI of England) to poets (American poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning) to gunslingers (Doc Holiday), millions of people have died from complications of this disease.
Evidence of TB has even been found in Egyptian mummies. Now, troubling reports from India indicates that a new strain of this illness has surfaced in multiple areas of the country. But, what exactly is Tuberculosis?
What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is a contagious disease that can affect various organs but is most commonly associated with lung damage. It is spread by air droplets coming from someone with the disease. TB is caused by a bacteria known as Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. Infections are treated by specific antibiotics (Isoniazid and Rifampin are old staples) that must be taken for several months on a specific schedule. This causes the infection to become dormant, often for many years. Trigger events, such as a major illness, may reactivate the disease and lead to major issues.
Primary Tuberculosis does not cause symptoms, but it is thought that a third of the world’s population has been exposed to the disease. In 2010, almost 10 million cases were reported, with 1.5 million deaths associated with the infection (mostly in third world countries). We worry about a future pandemic; here’s one that’s happening right now.
Most of you remember being given a TB test in your youth. Exposure causes your test to turn positive. During the Cuban Mariel Boatlift in 1980, I was working in an ER in inner city Miami. At that time, it was not customary to wear a mask when you saw a patient unless you were suspicious of a contagious illness. Sure enough, within a month of the first refugees pouring into town, I turned positive and had to take antibiotics for a year. Sigh.
What Are the Symptoms of Tuberculosis?
If the appropriate antibiotics were unavailable to me, as might happen if we hit hard times, I could have progressed to the symptomatic form of the disease. Symptoms of Tuberculosis include:
- Coughing and wheezing (with blood or mucus)
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
- Fevers and night sweats
- Chest pain
In the past, a person with the above was known to be suffering from “consumption”, because their worsening weakness and weight loss made it appear that something was “consuming” them.
There are now reports of some strains of the TB bacteria popping up in India that do not respond to any of the known antibiotic therapies. These cases are being diagnosed in diverse regions of the country; as such, there is concern about further spread. This new strain (known as Totally Drug Resistant or TDR Tuberculosis – how’s that for a scary name?) seems to affect the poor and malnourished most. With overcrowding and nutritional deficiencies rampant in the country, physicians in India are concerned about a possible epidemic. If TDR TB makes it out of the impoverished classes in India, it won’t be long before Indian businessmen or tourists take it to the rest of the world. Imagine, a mobile disease with absolutely no treatment.
So what does this have to do with Preparedness and Self-Reliance? It should be a warning to you that you need more masks (N95 respirator as well as regular face masks) and gloves than you have currently in your medical supplies. It might be time to ask yourself some questions: Where you would put a possibly contagious individual in your home or retreat? What protection against the spread of disease have you provided to the other members of your family/survival community? What would you do with a chronically ill member of your family when highly specialized drugs are no longer available?
Some of the above questions can be dealt with easily by getting more medical supplies. Remember, any extras (if there is such a thing) will be extraordinarily valuable barter items. Other questions above will require some thinking and planning, and some will require hard decisions.
Take some time to consider your options and plan ahead, whether it be for a pandemic, a solar flare, or an economic collapse. You can never have too many supplies in times of trouble.