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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tracking down the 'master of disguise'

Tracking down the 'master of disguise'

Tuberculosis is easily cured by anti-biotics which makes it all the more frustrating

for those fighting the disease.

One of these is Dr Beat Richner of the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital. He receives

five TB sufferers every day.

Recently a 7-year-old girl was admitted with TB Pericarditis, the most serious form

of the disease and the tenth case seen this year at the hospital.

According to Dr Richner these ten cases point to untold numbers of other forms of

TB.

Part of the problem of dealing with the devastating illness is the difficulty in

identifying it.

Dr Richner promoted the use of x-ray machines and was critical of the "spittle

test" method employed by the National Anti-Tuberculosis Center.

"We've had parents [of our patients] who were [TB] positive and the TB center

showed their spittle to be negative," he said.

The disease can also hide itself behind other illnesses, complicating the problem

of detection.

"People are not aware that TB can play the role of all diseases as it weakens

the body," said Richner.

TB often masks itself behind ailments such as diarrhea or a fever but occasionally

it can be something more serious.

The 7-year-old with TB Pericarditis had been diagnosed since birth as suffering from

a weak heart and was first diagnosed by Kantha Bopha as suffering from heart failure.

However, an x-ray and ultrasound revealed the real cause of her illness.

This is the form of TB affecting the outer membrane of the heart - this girl's was

huge, it was surrounded by liquid which had swelled it by 7.5cm.

Dr Richner said basic medical equipment led to a successful diagnosis and the girl

was treated for TB.

Further investigation revealed her whole family was suffering from TB and other family

members were treated at the TB Center.

Richner insists the best way to detect the disease is by an x-ray machine. His hospital

has two machines, one fixed and one portable.

He recommends provincial hospitals buy portable machines which each cost about the

same as three Land Cruisers.

Good medical training and a good laboratory are also essential.

Dr Richner recommends three winning ways to combat TB - a vaccination program to

stop new cases, all victims to be treated and finally for the economy to improve.

He is adament that the disease is one of poverty contracted by close proximity to

sufferers and he insists it cannot be contracted casually through coughing or spitting

on the street.

Many poor families are forced to share rooms and lack a sufficiently healthy diet

which lowers the body's resistance to the disease.

Next month he plans to start a vaccination program to protect 300-500 children daily.

This will give protection from mild forms, although it is not 100 percent effective

against stronger forms of the disease.

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