Infectious diseases are one of the main results of poverty in the developing world. In addition, the prevalence of infectious diseases has long been disparate between developing and developed nations. In a report on environmental risk factors and worldwide disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) affirmed the “total number of healthy life years lost per capita was 15-times higher in developing countries than in developed countries” for infectious diseases. Yet, one disease continues to be the deadliest infectious disease in the world, killing approximately 4,000 people a day: tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is a devastating widespread illness in the developing world, specifically in Asian and sub-Saharan African nations. However, tuberculosis of the spine called Pott’s Disease is a serious concern for the developing world. Read on for five things to know about Pott’s Disease.
5 Things To Know About Pott’s Disease
- Pott’s disease gets its name from a British surgeon. Though it is also referred to as spinal tuberculosis, the namesake of Pott’s Disease takes after British surgeon Percivall Pott. Pott originally studied and defined the condition in 1779, and his writings and research are still used today.
- Pott’s disease begins when tuberculosis spreads to the spine. Tuberculosis is an airborne infection that begins when an individual inhales mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes the disease. If tuberculosis goes untreated for a long period of time (which it often does in the developing world due to lack of access to healthcare and low-income citizens who cannot afford medication), the disease can spread from the lungs to the spine. Once this happens, an individual experiences a type of “spinal arthritis.” Tuberculosis bacteria invades the spinal cord and, if it infects two neighboring spinal joints, blocks the nutrient supply to that region of the back. Eventually, the spinal discs deteriorate and can cause serious back injury, difficulty standing or walking, nerve damage and, in serious cases, paralysis.
- Pott’s disease is visually recognizable and has existed for centuries. Unlike normal tuberculosis, which most commonly affects the lungs, Pott’s disease is easily visually recognizable due to the severe curvature of the mid to lower spine that results from the infection. Specifically, the thoracic spinal region is the most affected, followed closely by the lumbar region. This visual indication from remains traces the disease back to the European Iron Age and Egyptian mummies, making it one of the oldest documented diseases in history.
- Spinal tuberculosis only represents a small percentage of all tuberculosis cases. Although it is the most debilitating form of tuberculosis, Pott’s Disease only accounts for 1.02 cases per 100,000 tuberculosis cases in the world. This rate is higher among Africans, where 3.13 per 100,000 cases are attributed to Pott’s Disease. Globally, this means that only 1-2% of all tuberculosis cases are attributed to that disease.
- Pott’s disease can be treated through a rigorous medication regimen or surgery. Pott’s Disease is a result of a lack of treatment over a long period of time; conversely, a lengthy period of medication is often needed to fully treat the condition. The time period of treatment ranges from nine months to over a year, depending on individual symptoms and progression. However, medication cannot redeem an affected individual’s deformed spinal structure. Thus, it is often only used to treat the tuberculosis infection after surgery. “Spinal fusion or spinal decompression surgeries” can both repair the warped spine and “prevent further neurological complications.” Physical therapy is also often necessary after receiving spine surgery for Pott’s Disease. Yet, treating Pott’s Disease is highly expensive. Even when tuberculosis medication is free, “patient costs associated with TB treatment can be upwards of 80% per capita income in some regions.” However, multiple organizations exist that provide donations to supply healthcare and surgeries to low-income patients in developing nations. In addition, specific organizations like the Nuvasive Spine Foundation provide life-saving spine surgery in vulnerable regions around the world.
Although Pott’s Disease represents a small percentage of all tuberculosis cases, it is a serious illness. However, through the help of surgeons, medication and awareness, the disease can hopefully be treated across the globe soon.
– Grace Ganz