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Last week at a Medical briefing at a Medtech event, we were told by a told by an Asst Professor from Chulalongkorn University that between one out of four to five taxi drivers in Thailand are infected with Tuberculosis .(TB) . We were originally skeptical of the figure and tried doing some digging around with various agencies and research entities and organizations. The data we obtained was somewhat sketchy and not reliable as there were no proper consensus done in the last 3 years coupled with the fact organizations like WHO merely gives estimates based on data reported to them. The problem is that in Thailand, data is not properly reported for a number of reasons.
A lot of data that we tried to procure was deemed as classified. Now it even got us thinking that this was the first time that we are hearing that selected medical statistics data are deemed as classified. We also read many past media reports that gave totally wrong assumptions. (typical as most Thai media journalist are not investigative reporters, they merely regurgitate out from the PR Releases or simply write sensational headlines to get intellectually stagnant readers to follow them.)
Before we go in the statistics, it first best to understand a bit about TB.
Tuberculosis or TB, is a bacterial infection that can spread through the air ie air-borne. It is most often found in the lungs but can exists in nay organ of the body. When a person coughs or sneezes, they transmit so-called active TB. However, many people are also infected with an inactive form of TB known as latent TB. The bacillus that causes the disease is called Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb). Mycobacterium tuberculosis unique cell wall, which has a waxy coating primarily composed of mycolic acids, allows the bacillus to lie dormant for many years. The body’s immune system may restrain the disease, but it does not destroy it. While some people with this latent infection will never develop active TB, 12 to 18 per cent of the carriers will ultimately become sick in their lifetime.
There are newer forms of TB evolving with many becoming drug resistant. It is important to note that most immune-compromised individuals ie people with diseases like HIV will ultimately develop TB. (it was indicated that about 62 percent of HIV patients in Thailand ends up with TB)
According to WHO, Tuberculosis (TB) is a global disease, found in every country in the world. It is the leading infectious cause of death worldwide.WHO estimates that 1.8 billion people, close to one quarter of the world's population are infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb), the bacteria that causes TB. Last year, 14 million fell ill from TB and 2.6 million died according to them. It is considered the leading cause of infectious disease worldwide. It is responsible for economic devastation and the cycle of poverty and illness that entraps families, communities and even entire countries. Among the most vulnerable are women, children, and those with HIV/AIDS. There is growing resistance to available drugs, which means the disease is becoming more deadly and difficult to treat. There were 858,000 cases of drug resistant TB last year.
Thailand is recognized as< /a> one of the 18 countries in the world with the highest TB burden. Surprisingly the American CDC had more data about TB in Thailand than Thai agencies. It is estimated that about 4.2 million Thais are having latent TB while about 218,000 individuals have active TB with 9400 new cases per year.
This are already worrying figures and although the figures about Thai taxi drivers might not be reliable, it is estimated a more realistic figure considering that drivers are constantly exposed to air pollutants in Thai roads and are more likely to develop TB as a result, would be around 12% of them are infected with active TB.(still a figure of concern). And before you think of switching to Grab, think again as the incidence of other locals having the disease is still relatively high.
To prevent oneself from contracting TB, always maintain a healthy immune system by following a lifestyle that helps you maintain it…no drugs, no alcohol, healthy diets, exercise, good sleep, be careful of places and people you are in proximity with, wear a mask if possible when not sure, maintain hygiene standards and practice safe sex.
It is also a good move to have a health checkup and also check if you have latent TB as a doctor can put you on proper drugs to prevent it from activating. For those of you already having TB , make sure that you continue with your hospital visits and follow the treatment protocol or regimens closely.
And yes, it might be a good idea to avoid taxis for while, but then again whats the difference if your alternative is to travel in an overcrowded BTS enclosed carriage with hundreds of people whose health status you know nothing about! It is also highly advisable for parents to get their children vaccinated against TB when they are young.