Let sunshine in to fight tuberculosis, WHO says

Tue Mar 24, 2009 10:32am EDT
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By Laura MacInnis

GENEVA (Reuters) - Ventilation and some sunshine could go a long way to reduce tuberculosis risks in hospitals and prisons, two strongholds of the contagious lung disease, the World Health Organization said.

In its latest Global Tuberculosis Control report, released on Tuesday, the United Nations agency also doubled its estimate of how many HIV-infected people catch and die from tuberculosis, and warned especially deadly strains are continuing to spread in all corners of the world.

Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO's Stop TB department, said that because tuberculosis bacteria thrive in stagnant air, "simply opening the doors" can reduce the chances that patients, inmates and others will become infected with the disease that killed about 1.8 million people in 2007.

That global tuberculosis death toll includes 1.3 million HIV-negative people and 456,000 who were also infected with the AIDS virus, deaths from which are strictly classified in health statistics as HIV fatalities.

"You can only die once," explained Kevin De Cock, the WHO's HIV/AIDS Director, who estimated HIV patients whose immunity levels are weak are more than 20 times more likely to catch tuberculosis than the rest of the population.


The WHO's large revision of the number of people with both HIV and tuberculosis reflected "better analyses, better data, and better methodology" and not a real increase in the twin infections between 2006 and 2007, De Cock told a Geneva news briefing.

HIV patients should be screened for tuberculosis and given drugs to reduce their risks of developing the disease, which can be caught by breathing in air droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person, the Belgian infectious-disease expert said.   Continued...

<p>A patient suffering from tuberculosis rests in a hospital in Agartala, capital of India's northeastern state of Tripura, March 24, 2009. REUTERS/Jayanta Dey</p>