Monday, October 30, 2006
Medical Reports: Scare in the Air
It lurks in our water and lives in our soil. An organism that causes a serious lung disease is striking more and more people all over South Florida. But what's really scary is how this organism enters the body. 7 News' Tom Haynes has more on this scare in the air.
WSVN -- It is the most unlikely source for getting sick. When most of us take a shower, we expect to get clean, not infected by a life-threatening organism.
Ralph Restivo: "It's frightening when you find out you have it."
It is non-tuberculous mycobacteriaor NTM.
Ralph Restivo and Jane Feethammet in a support group for the crippling disease.
Jane: "I had never heard of the disease. I couldn't even pronounce it."
And they're far from alone. The bacteria is more common in Florida than any other state.
Dr. David Askhin: "It's estimated that we have anywhere from 13,000 to 26,000 cases of this right now in Florida."
For many of those people, the bacteria was living in their pipes and inhaled through the shower mist.
Dr. David Ashkin: "It's waiting for its chance. When those lungs get weakened, what happens is it gets into our lungs and causes disease."
Fortunately, most of us can fight it off. But for people with past respiratory problems or weakened immune systems, it can be difficult to diagnose.
Symptoms are usually a persistent cough, chronic fatigue, night sweats and weight loss.
Jane Feetham: "A terrible cough, spitting up a lot of mucus, the fatigue is very, very horrible."
If doctors do find you have NTM, treatment usually requires at least 18 months of powerful antibiotics. But while patients can get better, NTM never goes away.
Ralph Restivo: "You realize it's going to be with you forever. There is no cure for it. They can put it to sleep, but it can come back."
It's changed life for Ralph and Jane.
To keep from getting sick, they must wear masks doing yard work or gardening.
Jane Feetham: "I have to take really good care of myself, so it won't become active again."
Now all they can do is depend on their families and their new friendship.
The American Lung Association has now created a support group for people suffering from NTM.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
NTM Info & Research