World TB Day brings new focus to an old disease

Everyone is at risk.

Although tuberculosis is often perceived as a disease of the past, particularly in the United States, it is still one of the world’s top killers. Nearly 2 million people die from the disease across the globe each year, and many HIV deaths are attributable to TB, according to the World Health Organization. This is one of the reasons for World TB Day, held each year on March 24 to commemorate the discovery of the organism that causes the disease and raise awareness about the risks it still poses.

“The important thing to remember is until TB is eliminated everywhere, it’s not eliminated anywhere,” said Michael Lauzardo, M.D., a UF assistant professor of medicine and medical director of the Southeastern National Tuberculosis Center. “It just takes a few bad cases to cause a problem.”

The number of people infected with the disease dropped slightly in the United States from 2008 to 2009, but experts say the rate of improvement has slowed in recent years, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released last week. The report also states that Florida is one of only four states with more than 500 cases of TB in 2008.

Drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis are also an emerging threat, said Lauzardo, who also gave a keynote address Monday as part of a World TB Day presentation at the Broward County Health Department.

“As it becomes a major emergency we will start seeing more of those cases in the U.S.,” he said.

Housed in the UF College of Medicine, the Southeastern National Tuberculosis Center is funded by the CDC and provides training and medical support to TB programs in Florida, the Southeast and across the country, Lauzardo says. Aside from this, in July the center became its own division within the department of medicine and has begun branching out into research.

For example, the center is collaborating with the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute and Morocco’s national institute of hygiene to look at the reasons why people still die from TB there, even though it’s relatively rare and people have access to medical care.

To study the pharmacology of TB drugs, the center also will team with Charles Peloquin, Pharm.D., an expert who was recently recruited to the Emerging Pathogens Institute and the College of Pharmacy.

“A lot of neat stuff is happening,” Lauzardo said. “We’re really trying to integrate a lot of these pieces. Beyond operational research, we’re getting into more basic science and drug development, hopefully trials related to vaccine development, all in partnership with the CDC, the Florida Department of Health and UF.”