28 September 2000
People were saying, "Just push me off the bunk, I'm going to die anyway". - MSF field nurse in a prison hospital TB programme, Siberia Tuberculosis, more commonly known by the abbreviation TB, is one of the "emerging diseases". Up until the middle of this century TB was a scourge all over the world. Then, in 1944, with the discovery of the drug streptomycin, it seemed that the White Plague was at last to be conquered. This was not to be so. Over the coming decades the tubercle bacillus developed resistance to each new drug that was added to the fray. Now, at the end of the century, TB has become the biggest infectious killer of youth and adults. In 1997 some 2.9 million TB deaths were reported, and this is certainly an underestimate of the true numbers. One third of the deaths associated with AIDS are due to TB. The scientific name of the tuberculosis germ is Mycobacterium tuberculosis, but it is more commonly known as the tubercle bacillus. It is spread by coughing. The earliest symptoms of active TB are fever, night sweats and weight loss. Later there is cough, and blood may appear in the phlegm.