TUBERCULOSIS (TB) is a disease most people associate with poverty or HIV/AIDS. Not so, says the head of the University of Cape Town’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, Valerie Mizrahi, who has first-hand experience of just how easily it can sweep through a middle-class family.
Twenty years ago her mother took ill with a chest complaint that had her doctors baffled. For months she was in and out of hospital, with no definitive diagnosis. “I remember asking one of her physicians if he’d done a sputum test (for TB) and my question was met with amazement. She was a middle-class Jewish woman living in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, and doctors thought people of her phenotype just didn’t get TB,” says Zimbabwean-born Mizrahi, who was just beginning her research into the bacteria that causes so much trouble, Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Today she oversees a team at the institute that has pinpointed