Tuberculosis Can Spread Through Bong Tokes and Other Weird Facts About "White Plague"
The Palm Beach Post's Stacey Singer on Sunday delivered a stellar investigation into the state's worst tuberculous outbreak in two decades and how the health department tried to keep it secret.
This is horrible news given how quickly TB can spread and how costly it is to treat. There's a long twisted tale of this brutal disease, which killed more than 1.4 million people in 2010, according to the World Health Organization.
From infected bong tokes to a bunch of dead authors, here are a few fun facts about one of history's greatest killers.
It's Nicknames Are Awesome
Wasting Disease, Consumption, White Plague, King's Evil, Scrofula: No, these are not not '80s metal bands, just badass monikers that various types of TB earned over the centuries. Hell, even it's signature symptom became known as "The Graveyard Cough."
Rumor has it that the romantic poet John Keats one night coughed a speck of blood onto his bed sheet. He pulled over a candle, inspected the stain, and promptly diagnosed himself with TB. "That drop of blood is my death warrant. I must die," he declared. Despite his reputation, Keats wasn't being a total drama queen. He died about a year later from TB. A whole bunch of other great writers have been hit by the disease, including Stephen Crane, Washington Irving, Samuel Johnson, George Orwell and Henry David Thoreau.
In the epic weed anthem "Legalize It," Peter Tosh makes the bold claim that marijuana is good for tuberculosis. We looked into this claim a few months back, and can confidently recommend that you not heed medical advice from the late, great Mr. Tosh. Here's why: A few years back, there was an outbreak of TB among a bunch of teenagers in Australia who shared a bong. Then, there's also a report from the CDC on a group of kids in Washington who hot-boxed a car with a giant joint. Turns out that sitting in a car full of weed smoke that's been passing in and out of everyone's lung is a great way to spread tuberculosis.
It's More Wide-Spread Than You Think
We here in the developed world like to forget about disease we can vaccinate against or keep in check through massive public-health campaigns. And while TB doesn't grab headlines in the U.S. or Florida very often, an astonishing 8.8 million people around the world were infected in 2010, according to the World Health Organization. It's a particularly brutal diagnose for someone who's also living with HIV. In 2010, TB killed 350,000 HIV-positive people.
It Can Be Ridiculously Expensive to Treat
One of the most alarming aspects of the Post's investigation is how much Florida's current outbreak could end up costing the state. According to Singer, prompt treatment could cost about $500. But to treat a single drug-resistant strain costs more than $275,000. Singer writes, "For this reason, the state pays for public health nurses to go to the home of a person with TB everyday to observe them taking their medicine," for up to two years.