Tuberculosis (abbreviated as TB for tubercle bacillus or Tuberculosis) is a common and deadly infectious disease caused by mycobacteria, mainly Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis most commonly attacks the lungs (as pulmonary TB) but can also affect the central nervous system, the lymphatic system, the circulatory system, the genitourinary system, bones, joints and even the skin. Other mycobacteria such as Mycobacterium bovis, Mycobacterium africanum, Mycobacterium canetti, and Mycobacterium microti can also cause tuberculosis, but these species do not usually infect healthy adults.
One third of the world’s current population has been infected by TB, and new infections occur at a rate of one per second. Not everyone infected develops the full-blown disease; asymptomatic, latent infection is most common. However, one in ten latent infections will progress to active disease, which, if left untreated, kills more than half of its victims.
In 2004, mortality and morbidity statistics included 14.6 million chronic active cases, 8.9 million new cases, and 1.6 million deaths, mostly in developing countries. In addition, a rising number of people in the developed world are contracting tuberculosis because their immune systems are compromised by immunosuppressive drugs, substance abuse, or HIV/AIDS.
The rise in HIV infections and the neglect of TB control programs have enabled a resurgence of tuberculosis. The emergence of drug-resistant strains has also contributed to this new epidemic with, from 2000 to 2004, 20% of TB cases being resistant to standard treatments and 2% resistant to second-line drugs. TB incidence varies widely, even in neighboring countries, apparently because of differences in health care systems. The World Health Organization declared TB a global health emergency in 1993, and the Stop TB Partnership developed a Global Plan to Stop Tuberculosis that aims to save 14 million lives between 2006 and 2015.