Corona has also caused a rise in tuberculosis cases around the world

According to Weiss, 1.6 to 1.7 million people worldwide die of tuberculosis each year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the disease, with its often nonspecific symptoms, has been diagnosed less frequently. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of new diagnoses fell from 7.1 million in 2019 to 5.8 million in 2020, while there was an increase of 100,000 deaths from tuberculosis over this period.

In Tyrol only a low number of diseases

In Tyrol, the disease was largely contained, 76 cases of the disease were recorded in 1995, only 27 in 2021. According to Weiss, one of the reasons for the decline is improved hygiene and living conditions. Tuberculosis was a disease of the “poor” who lived in poor hygiene and housing conditions and were undernourished.

Janice Carr

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The pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis under the electron microscope

Furthermore, there was no specific therapy until the 1960s. “Patients were sent for air therapy, for example to Hochzirl, were placed in the sun and sometimes a pneumothorax was created so that the lungs collapsed. It was hoped that this would cure the infection, “says Weiss, who is also director of the University Clinic of Internal Medicine II.

No big danger from people from other countries

Weiss doesn’t see a big deal in the fact that some people flee or migrate from countries where TB is widespread. As a result, a significant increase in the number of diseases is not to be expected. Healthy people would have an extremely low risk of contracting tuberculosis after contact with sick people. There is virtually no risk of infection outdoors.

A good immune system eliminates the pathogen immediately

A good immune system kills bacteria on the spot, Weiss says. This is the case for 50-70% of people who come into contact with tuberculosis. In the remaining 30-50% of people who have come into contact with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the immune system is unable to eliminate the bacteria immediately. Latent tuberculosis develops, which can be diagnosed with immunological tests.

Gunter Weiss


According to Weiss, a good immune system protects against infections

With advancing age, a weakened immune system or through immunosuppressive therapy, latent TB can be reactivated and become active TB. According to Weiss, this is true for about five percent of people with latent tuberculosis in their lifetime. Symptoms of active tuberculosis are initially very nonspecific with night sweats, reduced performance, weight loss, chronic cough and fever, and the disease progresses insidiously.

Treatment with an extensive course of antibiotics

According to the Tyrolean infectious disease specialist, several antibiotics must be taken at the same time for at least six months to prevent the development of resistance. Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, fortunately not yet widespread in Austria, is treated for two to three years. With adequate therapy, however, the disease is very likely to recover completely and never recur.

According to Weiss, young children are at the greatest risk of a severe course. Weakened and malnourished people are at as much risk as patients with untreated HIV infection or with impaired immune function due to other diseases or treatments.

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