Tuesday, 5 April 2011

TUBERCULOSIS: Share your bong -- get tbc!

PEOPLE who share bongs to smoke marijuana may be at risk of contracting pulmonary tuberculosis, Australian medical researchers say.

Research to be presented at the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand conference in Perth on Monday suggests a link between active TB cases and shared bongs - water pipes commonly used in marijuana smoking.
Dr Michael Hayes and Dr Susan Miles from the Department of General Medicine at Calvary Mater Hospital in Newcastle conducted the research, centred on three recent TB cases in the Hunter-New England area of NSW.
Dr Hayes said the three young patients were regular or heavy cannabis users and more recently a fourth person in the region with similar characteristics had been diagnosed with TB.
TB is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which can be contracted by breathing in air droplets coughed from an infected person.
In Australia, about 1000 people are infected with TB each year, while globally an estimated 1.7 million people die from the disease annually.
Dr Hayes, who is also a specialist in the respiratory and sleep unit at the John Hunter Hospital in NSW, said the incidence of TB in the non-indigenous Australian-born population was historically low.
He said although the three initial cases were not related, there was concern about the high rate of positive contacts among people who had shared bongs with the active cases.
Close contacts of the three patients were tested for latent TB and more than 30 showed positive results, Dr Hayes said.
If the contact had shared a bong with the active case, there was a six-fold increased risk of being positive, he said.
"Smoking marijuana is a cough-provoking activity and it is usually conducted in a confined environment that is conducive to the spread of the organism.
"While there is no conclusive proof that TB has been spread by bong smoking, there is sufficient reason to suggest an association between this activity and the spread and severity of the disease."
He said greater awareness of the issue was needed among health professionals and the general public, particularly those who may be at risk through bong smoking.
But Dr Hayes said the risk of TB was just one of the minor risks associated with marijuana use.
"The other health problems associated with long term marijuana use are quite clear and well laid out.
"It does cause lung disease and heavy use does cause psychiatric problems."

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