For 20 years, Dr. Jeffrey Cirillo has been researching the genetic components of tuberculosis.
"Tuberculosis has been persisting and growing and replicating in people for thousands of years," Cirillo said.
The bacteria's latest victim is Andrew Speaker. The 31-year-old newlywed traveled across the country and international boundaries knowing he had a rare strand of tuberculosis.
As an associate professor of Microbial and Molecular Pathogenesis at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, Cirillo says people need to understand that exposure to TB will not necessarily give way to a timely infection.
"With TB, it can sometimes take months to get really serious ill," Cirillo said. "Sometimes people aren't infectious and don't even show positivity, so diagnosing is very difficult."
A common symptom of TB is coughing, but Cirillo says the disease can have more serious side effects.
"With TB one of the first things you often times see, even when somebody's not coughing, you see chronic weigh loss so they really lose," Cirillo said. "They even lose muscle tissue."
Speaker's strand is considered the most dangerous form of TB: Extreme Drug Resistant or XDR. As a result, the scientific and medical communities are giving his case close attention.
Cirillo says the strand first appeared about ten years in parts of Asia and Africa and has made a steady slow spread throughout the world. He says the XDR strand made its way to the United States several years ago and was discovered in a couple of small pockets.
Cirillo says this publicized case shows the states need to focus on finding a cure for TB and how to effectively manage treatment of infected individuals.
"We haven't really had a major outbreak of XDR in the U.S., but it's something that may be on the rise," Cirillo said.
Cirillo said every year tuberculosis infects 2.5 million people.
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