Tuberculosis: Mining Plays Bigger Role in TB in Africa Than Had Been Realized, Study Finds
Published: June 21, 2010
Dust-choked mine shafts, crowded working conditions and stifling hostels where up to 16 miners share a room — all conspire to make mining a more important contributor to tuberculosis in Africa than had been realized, a new study finds.
Rates of the illness have doubled in Africa over the past two decades, and have tripled in South Africa, which even in 1996 had the highest TB rates in the world. Until now it has been assumed that the increases were driven by Africa’s high rates of infection with the AIDS virus, which weakens the immune system, helping latent TB become active.
But researchers from Brown and Oxford Universities, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the University of California, San Francisco, compared 44 African countries and found that even some with low rates of H.I.V. infection rates had high TB rates. When a country’s mines shut down, tuberculosis often fell. The study appeared in The American Journal of Public Health.
The paper notes that many miners are migrant laborers who may go home only once or twice a year. Not only can they infect their wives and children, the authors found, but they stop seeing the mine clinic doctors who are familiar with tuberculosis and may interrupt taking their antibiotics, increasing the chances that they will develop a drug-resistant strain.
Gold seems to be the most dangerous product to mine, because workers in those deep, hot shafts breathe in more rock dust.