Tuberculosis – still a public health risk despite major medical advances.

08/03/2022

Education and proactive actions will save lives.

Tuberculosis or, “TB”, is a severe, but treatable bacterial disease.

TB does not discriminate between age, race, gender, or socio-economic position. Anyone can get tuberculosis, and there should be no shame or stigma surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of TB.

Tuberculosis can present in two main ways.

Firstly, as active TB, meaning that the TB pathogens in your lungs are actively reproducing and which means you are actively contagious and capable of spreading the disease through airborne and droplet transmission. Secondly, you can have a latent TB infection, which means that although you will test positive for TB you are not necessarily able to infect other people with the disease and may not be showing symptoms at the moment. TB in its active stage is a highly contagious disease. It is spread through breathing, talking, coughing or sneezing. Much like Covid-19.

How do we stop the spread of TB?

Many of the protocols we have become used to during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic are also extremely effective at helping combat the spread of TB.

This means that washing your hands, wearing a mask, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and ensuring that any room you are in has sufficient ventilation can go a long way to stopping the spread of TB. Although TB does not discriminate between victims, there are groups of people who are at a greater risk of developing severe illness from a TB infection.

Who is most at risk?

Tuberculosis is particularly threatening to people with compromised or diminished immune systems. This includes people with underlying health conditions, very young children, pregnant women and the elderly, as well as people who suffer from HIV and AIDS, or are taking immune suppressant drugs. People who are HIV positive are 18 times more at risk of developing active TB. TB is the number one cause of death among HIV positive people.

What parts of the body does TB infect?

The tuberculosis bacteria can infect any part of the body, but usually affects the lungs.

“Lung TB” is characterised by:

• Prolonged cough (more than three weeks),
• Chest pain,
• Weakness or fatigue,
• Weight loss,
• Fever,
• Night sweats.

These symptoms usually start off slow and only gradually become more severe. This is dangerous, because it means that someone who has Active TB can already be spreading the disease among family members and colleagues before they are diagnosed. If left untreated, TB can also affect the kidneys, spine, and gastro-intestinal tract and in severe cases even cause meningeal TB. (A severe infection of the brain.)

What treatment options are there?

The medical science surrounding TB has come a long way. These days TB is a treatable and highly curable disease. With effective diagnosis and treatment, most people recover completely from active TB in 6 months’ time. The treatment regime for active TB is a 6-month long course of oral antibiotics (pills) that must be taken exactly as prescribed by your doctor, even when you start to feel better.

If you do not complete your full course of treatment, you stand the risk of developing Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) which is a much more difficult disease to cure and also poses a massive public health threat, as it increases general anti-microbial resistance within a population. (This means that antibiotics become ineffective for treating other infections as well.)

What should I do if I suspect someone has TB?

The right thing to do when you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering from both latent and active TB is to seek out medical advice immediately and ensure that you stick to the prescribed treatment plan and fully comply with it. A healthcare provider who suspects that a patient has TB will send the patient for testing.

With “lung TB” the patient will be asked for a sputum sample, and in the case of “non-lung TB” affected body fluids and tissue samples can be tested. The World Health Organization recommends rapid molecular diagnostic tests as initial tests for people showing signs and symptoms of TB.

Other diagnostic tools can include sputum smear microscopy and chest X-rays. If you have a TB infection, but it has not yet progressed to active TB disease, you should also be treated. For a TB infection, the treatment is usually only between one and three months and also involves a wide range of oral antibiotics.

What about the children?

There is a safe and effective vaccine available that gives up to 80% protection against severe TB, called the bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine that is part of the standard vaccination schedule for infants in most African countries.

Is TB a worldwide problem?

Yes. TB is prevalent all over the world and any person can become infected. The World Health Organization however confirms that most active TB cases are diagnosed in developing countries.

“Most of the people who fall ill with TB live in low- and middle-income countries, but TB is present all over the world.

About half of all people with TB can be found in 8 countries:

Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines and South Africa.

• About one-quarter of the world’s population is estimated to be infected by TB bacteria.
• Only 5-15% of these people will fall ill with active TB disease.
• The rest have TB infection but are not ill and cannot transmit the disease.
• Both TB infection (latent TB) and TB disease (Active TB) are curable using antibiotics.”

Tuberculosis – still a public health risk despite major medical advances.

08/03/2022

Education and proactive actions will save lives.

Tuberculosis or, “TB”, is a severe, but treatable bacterial disease.

TB does not discriminate between age, race, gender, or socio-economic position. Anyone can get tuberculosis, and there should be no shame or stigma surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of TB.

Tuberculosis can present in two main ways.

Firstly, as active TB, meaning that the TB pathogens in your lungs are actively reproducing and which means you are actively contagious and capable of spreading the disease through airborne and droplet transmission. Secondly, you can have a latent TB infection, which means that although you will test positive for TB you are not necessarily able to infect other people with the disease and may not be showing symptoms at the moment. TB in its active stage is a highly contagious disease. It is spread through breathing, talking, coughing or sneezing. Much like Covid-19.

How do we stop the spread of TB?

Many of the protocols we have become used to during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic are also extremely effective at helping combat the spread of TB.

This means that washing your hands, wearing a mask, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and ensuring that any room you are in has sufficient ventilation can go a long way to stopping the spread of TB. Although TB does not discriminate between victims, there are groups of people who are at a greater risk of developing severe illness from a TB infection.

Who is most at risk?

Tuberculosis is particularly threatening to people with compromised or diminished immune systems. This includes people with underlying health conditions, very young children, pregnant women and the elderly, as well as people who suffer from HIV and AIDS, or are taking immune suppressant drugs. People who are HIV positive are 18 times more at risk of developing active TB. TB is the number one cause of death among HIV positive people.

What parts of the body does TB infect?

The tuberculosis bacteria can infect any part of the body, but usually affects the lungs.

“Lung TB” is characterised by:

• Prolonged cough (more than three weeks),
• Chest pain,
• Weakness or fatigue,
• Weight loss,
• Fever,
• Night sweats.

These symptoms usually start off slow and only gradually become more severe. This is dangerous, because it means that someone who has Active TB can already be spreading the disease among family members and colleagues before they are diagnosed. If left untreated, TB can also affect the kidneys, spine, and gastro-intestinal tract and in severe cases even cause meningeal TB. (A severe infection of the brain.)

What treatment options are there?

The medical science surrounding TB has come a long way. These days TB is a treatable and highly curable disease. With effective diagnosis and treatment, most people recover completely from active TB in 6 months’ time. The treatment regime for active TB is a 6-month long course of oral antibiotics (pills) that must be taken exactly as prescribed by your doctor, even when you start to feel better.

If you do not complete your full course of treatment, you stand the risk of developing Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) which is a much more difficult disease to cure and also poses a massive public health threat, as it increases general anti-microbial resistance within a population. (This means that antibiotics become ineffective for treating other infections as well.)

What should I do if I suspect someone has TB?

The right thing to do when you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering from both latent and active TB is to seek out medical advice immediately and ensure that you stick to the prescribed treatment plan and fully comply with it. A healthcare provider who suspects that a patient has TB will send the patient for testing.

With “lung TB” the patient will be asked for a sputum sample, and in the case of “non-lung TB” affected body fluids and tissue samples can be tested. The World Health Organization recommends rapid molecular diagnostic tests as initial tests for people showing signs and symptoms of TB.

Other diagnostic tools can include sputum smear microscopy and chest X-rays. If you have a TB infection, but it has not yet progressed to active TB disease, you should also be treated. For a TB infection, the treatment is usually only between one and three months and also involves a wide range of oral antibiotics.

What about the children?

There is a safe and effective vaccine available that gives up to 80% protection against severe TB, called the bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine that is part of the standard vaccination schedule for infants in most African countries.

Is TB a worldwide problem?

Yes. TB is prevalent all over the world and any person can become infected. The World Health Organization however confirms that most active TB cases are diagnosed in developing countries.

“Most of the people who fall ill with TB live in low- and middle-income countries, but TB is present all over the world.

About half of all people with TB can be found in 8 countries:

Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines and South Africa.

• About one-quarter of the world’s population is estimated to be infected by TB bacteria.
• Only 5-15% of these people will fall ill with active TB disease.
• The rest have TB infection but are not ill and cannot transmit the disease.
• Both TB infection (latent TB) and TB disease (Active TB) are curable using antibiotics.”