Sunday, November 03, 2013

zTuberculosis - a very personal battle.

While Brian May's groupies chitter on about 'saving' tuberculous badgers and Defra wring their collective hands while counting the exorbitant cost of slaughtering sentinel, tested reactor cattle (not to mention sheep, alpacas, goats and deer), a very poignant reminder has appeared on FACEBOOK - [link] as to why the eradication of this disease is so very necessary.

It tells the story of one person's father and his very personal battle, not with badgers, cattle, alpacas, sheep or the family cat, but with tuberculosis. A battle which inevitably, he lost.We quote it in full:
"My father, a minister in Scotland during the war, contracted TB at some point, and its effects were to be devastating to us all. At first it lay dormant, as it often does - but by the time I came along, some ten years later, it was starting to make its presence felt.

By this time he was a professor, and had had to move to the city, and a combination of winter smog and the pressures of his new job resulted in a twelve month stay in hospital. We moved to the country, where at least there was no smog, and life settled down.

As a child I simply accepted that he loved walking, but that hills defeated him; loved rugby but was never able to join in our back garden games. I can recall so well the sound of his breathing as he climbed the stairs, the noisy laboured sound so familiar and almost comforting to me, but a 'not-rightness' about it which worried me too. His coughing fits were frightening, his gasping for breath, the veins standing out on his forehead - but he was fiercely independent and we were never allowed to offer sympathy, or discuss his illness, and the TB word was never mentioned.

I was eleven years old when he collapsed again. I knew I had to be brave, but once he and Ma had gone to the hospital, I cried and cried as never before, terrified that we were losing him, my brother unable to comfort me.

He was in hospital for months again. I still have the letter he sent me for my twelfth birthday, sweet, funny and self-deprecating, it still makes me smile - and cry - when I read it now.

Eventually we were allowed to visit him, and I carefully chose a copy of 'Punch' magazine from a newsstand to take him, desperately wanting him to laugh again, for everything to be all right once more. He came home at last, and threw himself into his work.

He was hugely popular with colleagues and students alike, and he impatiently brushed aside any intrusive questions as to his health. I had my skin test at school for the BCG injection, and of course my arm blew up like a balloon - and at last my mother explained to me that he had tuberculosis, but that he didn't want anyone to know.

He wrote a brilliant but controversial book about Scotland and the terrible injustices of the Highland Clearances, drawing on the experiences of his Hebridean forbears. He was constantly in demand, at the very peak of his career - and he was failing..

He 'raged against the dying of the light', even as this awful thing was engulfing him; working feverishly, trying to finish another book, write lectures, address students, even as his hopelessly damaged lungs started to let him down. He collapsed again, but this time there was to be no recovery.

Tuberculosis finally defeated him; he was 58, and I was days away from my 18th birthday.

And within a few years of his death, we had TB virtually eradicated from the UK. We forget the awful toll it used to take on children and adults alike, and generations have grown up never having seen its effects. But we belittle it and forget it at our peril - because by allowing it to rampage unchecked through our badger population, we have put ourselves and our children, and our children's children, at risk once more, and it is stupidity beyond belief. TB is still a killer disease, and it's still there, waiting for any of us, just over the hedge."
We can add nothing to that.

What we see happening now IS stupidity beyond belief.
 Tuberculosis IS still the killer disease it always was, particularly if not diagnosed and treated early enough.
 It IS now plastered over our environment, and it IS waiting to pounce, from just over the hedge.

And in many cases, the current generation of health professionals, vets and vaccinators are unaware of the not inconsiderable risks this disease carries. 

For some [- link] the warning is too late. For others - [link] although 'treated', the disease may remain and their lung capacity and thus lifestyle, be severely impaired for the rest of their lives. We play with the bacterium which causes zTuberculosis at our population's - [link] peril.

 But by concentrating polemic surrounding zoonotic tuberculosis merely to its animal victims and tested dead sentinels, 'playing with it' - [link] is exactly what we are doing.

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