Contributed by- Dr. Dhrity Vats
Tuberculosis – the word itself terrifies us all. As per World Health Organization (WHO), curable tuberculosis kills 5000 people everyday globally. What is really disturbing is that it is not really the disease but the ignorance and untimely treatment that causes such a huge death toll.
Tuberculosis is widely spread in our country due to lack of hygiene. Lack of awareness about the disease makes us much more susceptible towards it. WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Report 2015 states that of the nine million reported cases of TB worldwide, 2.3 million were in India.
These numbers may sound very scary but for those who have seen someone close suffering from TB and later conquering it, would know that though it is a dangerous disease (spreads fast, can reoccur and can lead to complications), it is definitely not that scary. Timely detection and proper treatment helps the most.
Let us now find answers to the many questions that surround TB.
What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is an infection caused by Myobacterium Tuberculosis bacteria. The first organs that the bacteria attacks are lungs causing Primary Tuberculosis. It can also infect other organs causing Secondary Tuberculosis.
Is TB just an infection of the lungs?
TB does not mean that only lungs will be infected. Lungs are home to tuberculosis causing bacterium but the tuberculosis can also spread to stomach, intestines, bones, brain, jejunum or colon. Those infected with lung TB are at a higher risk of TB in the other organs.
What causes TB?
When a person infected with tuberculosis coughs, sneezes or spits, the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium spreads through the air . It spreads through droplets of saliva or any discharge from the mouth. When another person nearby breathes in these bacteria, he/she can be infected.
Coughing a lot, can it be TB?
Not all coughing is due to TB. Cough can be triggered due to a change in weather or change in hygiene factors or a viral infection. But to identify the TB causing cough (the most visible symptom of Active Tuberculosis) one should bear the following in mind:
- Bad cough lasting for 3 weeks or more
- Coughing accompanied with a pain in the chest
- Blood stained sputum or discharge from the throat
Latent TB, on the other hand, does not show any specific signs and it is not contagious. The symptoms are :
- Loss in appetite
- Weight loss
- Fever with chills
- Sweating at night
Pay heed to these symptoms and consult your doctor when in doubt.
How does TB spread?
Tuberculosis is a contagious disease which spreads through the air when a person with TB coughs and sneezes. People nearby are exposed to this bacterium. That is the reason the infected person has to take precautions like covering their mouth when they cough, sneeze and speak as well.
Who all are at higher risk of getting TB?
Chances of getting TB increases manifold if:
- You have visited areas where TB disease is very common
- You live or work where TB disease is more common such as a homeless shelter, prison or jail
- You are a health-care worker who works with clients or patients who are at increased risk for TB disease
Can TB reoccur?
Yes, TB may reoccur if and when:
- You are infected with HIV
- You are a child younger than 5 years of age
- You smoke, use alcohol or drugs
- You have recently been infected with TB in the last two years
- You have other health problems that make you less immune
- You were not treated correctly for latent TB infection or TB disease in the past
Have a friend or a family member with TB, who all are at risk?
Family members and people who spend more time with the patient are at a risk of acquiring the infection. People with medical conditions that weaken the immune system are at a higher risk. Correct medication reduces the risk of spread the infection. Proper rest, good treatment and no work is advised for the person suffering from TB. People near the infected person are advised to wear mask.
What are the precautions to be taken by an infected person?
Tuberculosis is airborne which makes it highly communicable. The infected person should take various precautions to control the spread of the infection by:
- Wearing a mask over the mouth
- Avoiding direct contact with other people
- Taking proper medication and rest
What are the test for Tuberculosis?
Depending on your symptoms, the doctor will ask for diagnosis through chest X-ray and CT scan in some particular cases. Sputum test and Mantoux test helps in confirming lung TB.
What is the treatment for TB?
The WHO describes the treatment of TB by the name on DOTS. Many of us have seen advertisements on television of actors endorsing it. DOTS stands for Directly Observed Therapy. This treatment usually consists of a combination of TB drugs that must be taken for at least six months. But the treatment will only be successful if the drugs are taken exactly as required for the entire length of time.
To reduce the chances of TB, infants at the time of birth are given the BCG vaccine.
What is Drug Resistant TB?
When a person infected with TB takes incorrect or inadequate treatment, he develops immunity against the TB curing drugs.
The incorrect or inadequate treatment may be in the following conditions:
- use of the wrong medications
- use of only 1 medication (standard treatment is at least two drugs)
- not taking medication consistently
- not taking medication for the full treatment period (treatment is required for several months)
This mismanagement of drugs can cause Drug Resistant TB. It has become a major obstacle in achieving effective TB care and prevention globally.
Common myths related with Tuberculosis
People suffering from TB can be subjected to social isolation and ill treatment. The fear of such discrimination often causes delay in seeking medical help. It is really important to bust such myths and spread awareness about the disease. TB causing bacterium cannot be transmitted through:
- food and water
- skin contact such as shaking hands
- touching a toilet seat
- sharing a toothbrush
Tuberculosis can only be fatal if not treated correctly. It is time to ask ourselves, Why are we letting a curable disease become so powerful?
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