Cystic fibrosis is a disease caused by a genetic mutation, making it impossible to cure using current technology. The gene mutation causes the victim's body to produce a very thick and large amount of mucus that collects in the lungs. The collection of mucus in the lungs makes it very difficult to breathe and can lead to deadly respiratory tract infections. The mucus buildups can also move to the liver and pancreas, causing problems with blood filtering and digestion, respectively.
The disease is relatively rare, affecting only 30,000 people in the United States. However, over 10 million people in the United States also carry the defective gene, but do not experience any symptoms. In order to get cystic fibrosis, a child must receive the CF gene from both parents. This type of trait is recessive, meaning that two parents with the gene have only a 25% chance of producing a child with the disease, a 25% chance of producing a child without the gene, and a 50% chance of producing a child with the gene, but not the disease.
Cystic fibrosis will quickly produce symptoms and it is usually detected by the time a child is two or three years old. Some symptoms include sweat with high sodium levels, wheezing and/or shortness of breath, a large appetite without noticeable weight gain, and greasy stools. Symptoms vary from person to person, however, since there are over one thousand variations of the gene that causes cystic fibrosis.
Most detection of the disease is done with a simple test of the person's perspiration. The salinity (saltiness) of the sweat is measured and cystic fibrosis is indicated by a very high salt level. However, the only certain way to diagnose the disease is to analyze a person's DNA.
Once detected, the disease cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be treated to make the person more comfortable. If the disease has not advanced very far, the victim may require no extra treatment, but later stages will require some clearing of mucus from the respiratory tract. To accomplish this, a person can be elevated slightly with their head lower than the rest of their body, then their chest or back is clapped to help dislodge the mucus from the lungs and move it towards the mouth, where it can be spit out.
If an infection occurs in the respiratory tract, doctors can prescribe aerosol antibiotics that are inhaled. Another drug commonly prescribed is Pulmozyme, which has a mucus-thinning effect. The vast majority of people afflicted with cystic fibrosis are also given digestive enzymes to replace those normally produced by the pancreas.
Cystic fibrosis a very difficult disease to deal with, due to its chronic and disabling symptoms. However, there is hope in the future with progress in genetic engineering. As science becomes more familiar with human genetics, it is possible that they will be able to replace the mutated gene with a normal gene to eliminate the disease. However, until science has advanced to such a point, mankind will have no way to stop this disease.