Last Friday, I got the opportunity to attend the World TB Day Conference, put together by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). It was a fascinating day, filled with learning and contemplation! I even got this official badge:
Tuberculosis is a disease that has ravaged the Earth for hundreds of years; it was even once thought of as a “vain” disease – a disease that frail and beautiful women got, a disease that was beautiful and romantic. However, it quickly became a disease of the poor, “the poorest of the poor,” as its often described, and any “positive” connotations or attention TB once had disappeared.
The sad truth is that TB continues to be a huge public health burden, both here in the United States and abroad. I’ve been lucky to take courses here at SPH about TB, both from epidemiology and policy perspectives, and these classes, as well as personal experience (I know two people who have TB), prompted me to attend this conference.
Epid 605 (Infectious Disease) and Epid 607 (Applied Epidemiology) give a lot of background as to why and how TB has made a “comeback,” especially in high income countries like the US: It’s closely tied to HIV/AIDS and is considered an AIDS-defining illness. My policy course – HMP 624 (Global Health Policy) – gave me a completely different perspective, and evaluating TB in the context of cost – both economic and societal – was eye-opening.
Latent TB – disease that is present but not doing anything to the person and not contagious to others – affects over 2 billion people in the world. Active TB – disease that is actively causing infection, and is contagious – affects an addition 9-10 million…and millions more that don’t know they have the disease. This graphic (from one of the presenters at the conference) sums up TB throughout history:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Chronicling The Conference~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
8am: The conference was at Michigan State, so I got there and checked in (and got some much needed coffee of course!) I got to sit with a few public health nurses and a couple of doctors, and it was fascinating to hear their interactions with TB patients
8:45am: The keynote speaker was the Public Health Officer from the CDC – Dr. Jevon McFadden and he introduced the two women who spoke about their personal experiences with TB
9am: The women who spoke both had suffered from, been through treatment, and survived their extra-pulmonary (non-lung based) TB experiences. They were so inspiring and it was truly an honor to hear their stories.
9:30 – 11:30am: There were lectures by various public health officials from MDHHS about TB transmission and pathogenesis (it was super neat – all of us in the room learned how to read chest X-rays!), and then the lab procedures by which TB is isolated, cultured, and diagnosed (fun fact – Michigan does ALL the testing of suspect cases from around the US, on behalf of the CDC!)
12pm: Lunch! I got to sit with a bunch of State epidemiologists and learned a lot about what applied epi looks like once MPH is added to one’s name…super exciting (and also terrifying) since I, too, will have that designation in two weeks!
1pm: The afternoon sessions talked about cool new methods in epi genotype analysis to essentially do detective work to track down TB cases and how/where they are spread.
2pm: We got to hear from Dr. Richard Brostrom (based in Hawaii) about the connection between diabetes and TB. It was really fascinating as I had had no idea that the two were connected! The statistics were shocking and he likened diabetes and TB to HIV/AIDS and TB….which has huge implications for the medical world.
All in all, it was a fascinating day, and I’m so thankful to SPH for the experience that I had! It’s always great to see the work we do in the classroom applied to real people in the world outside these walls!