Often associated with the 19th century, tuberculosis cases are on the increase in the 21st. One reason for this is that TB is a disease of poverty. Money can’t buy health, but the conditions most hospitable to the disease and the virus that causes it—such as lack of access to adequate medical care and crowded and unsanitary living conditions—are far easier to avoid with money, and far more common among the growing ranks of the global poor. Anther thing TB is a disease of is AIDS; in the developed world many TB patients are HIV-positive, and the viruses have a relationship that is mutually beneficial to them, but deadly to their host.
The good news is that newer and better tuberculosis vaccines are being developed as part of the effort, celebrated on World TB Day this coming Sunday, to eradicate tuberculosis in our generation. Research is being conducted all the time, and earlier this year scientists found a substance that dramatically improves the effectiveness of some types of vaccines in preventing the spread of tuberculosis. Unfortunately, the vaccine still has limited usefulness in adults, Moreover, vaccination and prevention are only part of the solution. Tuberculosis responds readily to treatment—though increasing drug resistance means it’s heartier than in times past—but too often, treatment isn’t available, or poor diagnostics mean it isn’t administered during the window when it can do the most good.
Tuberculosis is a global health threat, and it is a highly communicable disease that may influence practically anyone and everyone, said Javed Agrewala in a statement. “There is a serious need and challenge for the scientific community to develop alternative vaccination approaches for the control of the disease.” A researcher at the CSIR-Institute of Microbial Technology in Chandigarh, India, Agrewala advocated last summer for investigation of a wider variety of vaccines.
In particular, he called for wider use of a synthetic vaccine, created in a lab, that does not contain any infectious material. In the areas where TB is most common, parasitic infections are likewise common, and interfere with the resistance inoculation with viruses is intended to develop, but synthetics overcome this difficulty.