Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ruminations from a Country Show

A week ago last Monday I took my wife for a day of what psychologists might class as regression therapy. The latter is a process whereby a person is psychologically taken back to a time in their earlier life. ‘We used to keep some of those’, was a phrase I repeatedly heard throughout the day; that and ‘oh, I can remember riding on one of those – no suspension!’ However, before rumours circulate that my eclectic lifestyle has finally driven my long-suffering wife insane, let me explain that we visited the Nidderdale Agricultural Society Annual Show. My wife was, one might say, ‘to the farm born’, and thus she was in her element, regressing the odd decade or so to memories of her childhood.

As for me, well there I was leaning on a stock barrier watching Highland cattle parading round the judging ring when my mind turned to Keats; John Keats that is, the poet and doctor. This in turn made me wonder whether badgers were considered to be a local problem. (Well, a chap has to occupy himself somehow whilst his wife goes for a trip down memory lane riding a vintage Fergusson tractor.) Enquiringly, I turned to a person dressed in the style of the typical farming-type. However, it turned out that she was Kirstie Allsopp filming a Channel 4 documentary and knew less about badgers in the Yorkshire Dales National Park than I did. (I later discovered that they are widespread but not that common).

If you are still with me on this circuitous journey, let me now explain that the main subject of my thoughts was the disease once known as consumption, but better known today as tuberculosis or just TB. Cattle can be infected by TB, and there is controversy as to whether badgers are the cause of its spread amongst herds. In humans, it is usually spread through coughing and sneezing in close proximity to others; which is why you hear of outbreaks in schools, barracks and other crowded environments.

All of which brings me back to John Keats. Unfortunately, Keats died of TB at the age of 25 years. He is in good company, as the disease has carried off many writers and artists over the years; the Brontë sisters, Robert Burns, D.H. Lawrence, George Orwell, John Ruskin, and Chopin, to name but a few. Even Florence Nightingale succumbed to its ravages. As a result, we often think of TB as a disease of history. The truth is, the infection is still rife today. On a world-wide basis, a new case occurs at a rate of one-per-second, and as such it remains the world’s biggest killer of women of reproductive age. In Britain, TB is mainly an urban disease, with an incidence of 15 cases per 100,000 population (the population of Northern Lincolnshire is about 300,000).

Symptoms commonly include fever, night-sweats, cough, blood-stained sputum, weight loss and fatigue; although it can have other manifestations. Fortunately, in the western world it is kept under reasonable control by good public health measures and the prompt treatment of contacts. Vaccination is only offered to those considered to be at high risk, such as health workers or babies born into a high risk community.

Whilst treatment is difficult (requiring prolonged courses of antibiotics), the good news is that the earlier TB is identified, the more effective the treatment. The fundamental point is, if you have had a cough for more than three weeks, go and speak to your doctor. You will probably not have TB. However, the doctor may want to rule it out, along with one or two other important conditions.

Oh, and don’t worry, as a human you are unlikely to catch it from cattle, badgers, beef or milk…and my wife didn’t really ride the tractor last week; I made that bit up.

(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday 29th September 2011)

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