Contributed by – Krushna Charan
Tuberculosis (TB) is an airborne bacterial infection that can be found across the world, but it is a major health concern for India because as per the statistics of WHO, India accounts for 26% of all TB cases in the world. One of the major reasons for more no. of TB cases in India is that a large population of Indians even today lack awareness about TB and have limited access to timely diagnosis and treatment required for fighting TB.
TB is caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In this disease, the bacteria enters the lungs first and then invades and multiplies other areas in the body like lymph nodes, bones, kidneys, brain, spine and even the skin. If the immune system of the body doesn’t manage to fight the bacteria, the person gets affected by the disease. People who undergo the long process of TB treatment can beat the disease, but sometimes it can relapse too. Here, we are going to discuss various aspects of TB and whether it can be completely cured or not.
How does TB spread?
Tuberculosis spreads when a person exhales the clouds of tiny droplets that contain tuberculosis bacteria. The droplets come from the nose and mouth of a person who has TB, and gets into the air when a person talks, coughs, or sneezes. The repeated breathing of germ-loaded air can affect others with tuberculosis. Once the bacteria enters the body, it can multiply in the lungs and damage the lung tissues.
The damaged lung tissues weaken a person’s ability to take in oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. The TB bacteria damages the lungs so much that it is difficult for a person to breathe. Although TB’s most common target is the lungs, it can also invade other parts of the body such as the brain, kidneys, and spine. TB outside the lungs is called extra-pulmonary TB (EPTB).
How do you know if someone has TB or not?
Symptoms of tuberculosis like persistent cough for more than 2-3 weeks or pain in the chest can appear if a person is infected by the TB bacteria. Once the TB causing bacteria enter the body through the lungs, it depends on the immune system to fight it off, which is why doctors make a distinction on the basis of the impact the virus has on the body. There are two main types of TB therefore, one is latent TB, and the other is active TB.
- Latent TB: In this condition, one has a TB infection, but the bacteria remain in the body in an inactive state and cause no symptoms. Latent TB, also called inactive TB or TB infection, isn’t contagious and can’t be passed on to other people. However, it can turn into active TB, so getting treatment on time is important to help control the spread of TB.
- Active TB: This condition makes one sick and in most cases can spread to others. It usually occurs in the first few weeks after infection with the TB bacteria, but there have been cases when it has occurred years later also.
Signs and symptoms of active TB include:
- Coughing that lasts for three or more weeks
- Blood in Cough
- Chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing
- Unintentional weight loss
- Night sweats
- Loss of appetite
[Also read: All you need to know about tuberculosis disease]
Can TB be completely cured?
There is no single treatment because tuberculosis has more than one form. In most cases, TB is fully curable, and most people have TB only once in their lifetime.
As a precaution, doctors may prescribe the medications to patients with latent TB for at least six months. In the case of active TB, doctors prescribe different kinds of antibiotics to treat this disease because the TB bacteria may become resistant to the existing antibiotics one is taking. . Even after a TB patient receives treatment and gets cured, tuberculosis can occur again due to a reinfection.
Can tuberculosis occur again?
TB can be relapsed after some years in patients who have been treated for TB. This can occur either because the first TB was not successfully treated or it could be caused by a new TB infection.
Does cold weather affect tuberculosis?
The transmission of tuberculosis is high during winter months due to diminished amounts of natural sunlight, indoor activities, seasonal change in immune function. Additionally, seasonal variation in food availability and food intake, age, and sex are important factors which can play a vital role in the tuberculosis infection.
How long is the TB treatment?
First, a blood test is performed to determine whether a person is affected by TB or not. Then, some additional tests are performed to diagnose whether it is latent or active TB. A drug sensitivity test is usually performed to do this. If the test shows that the TB bacteria are sensitive to all the drugs, then the TB bacteria may die very slowly and it may take 6 months or more for the medicines to kill the bacteria. If the drug sensitivity test shows that the bacteria are drug-resistant then treatment term can increase up to 2 years. Treatment terms depend on the infected person’s immune system as well. If a person’s immune system is weak the bacteria may remain active.
[Also read: Tuberculosis is not as scary as you think]
How tuberculosis can be prevented?
Since TB is an airborne infection, TB bacteria are released into the air when someone with infectious TB coughs or sneezes. The risk of infection can be reduced by using a few simple precautions:
- Ensure good ventilation: TB can remain suspended in the air for several hours with no ventilation
- Get more natural light: UV light present in sunlight can kill TB bacteria
- Ensure good hygiene: Always cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing to reduce the spread of TB bacteria.
- Avoid going to public places
Early detection is the key to the treatment for TB and the first step to treat tuberculosis. If any of the symptoms like excessive coughing or sneezing occur, one should consult with their doctor for taking necessary steps for early detection of TB.
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