New Autoimmune Disease Mistaken For TB

August 23, 2012

Infection. Wasting away, unable to eat. Headaches, dizziness. These symptoms can be applied to many serious diseases, but one in particular has become a hot subject of study among those in infectious disease control.

It’s an acquired autoimmune disease, leading many people to compare it to AIDS—but it’s not caused by a pathogen (although it may be triggered by them). Nor is it 100% genetic, although so far it’s only been found in people born in Asia.

After 50—an age when many people are already suffering from weakened immune systems, something is triggering an autoimmune reaction. The body starts producing autoantibodies, and is blocked from naturally functioning to clear infection.

Many people are diagnosed when they present with severe symptoms of infection, often already wasting away, which is why the disease is often confused with tuberculosis (TB). In the US, there’s only been handfuls of cases over the past decade, and a few deaths. In Asia, it’s much more common.

Since researchers haven’t been able to figure out what causes it, there’s no real cure. A hospital stay to clear infections (often requiring severe treatments, similar to those for other serious disease, since antibiotics don’t work on everything and can lead to fungal and viral infections) is about all that can be done. There’s no fix for the underlying problem yet.

Should you worry? Until a genetic link is made, as well as an environmental trigger established, new diseases like this aren’t a good thing. In the US especially, we’re pretty hard on our immune systems between the US work week, diet, and general lack of exercise.

Do what you can to support your immune system. For example, in this disease it’s antibodies that are impaired—but the skin and GI tract both offer some level of immune protection, as does frequent hand washing, a healthy diet, and being aware of the possibility of parasites (an affliction that is more likely to affect those with this new autoimmune disease).

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