What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is an infectious bacterial disease, spread by cough droplets of an infected person. It mainly attacks the lungs but can affect other parts of the body.
Many people exposed don’t experience TB symptoms right away. There is normally 3 stages of TB.
Primary Infection is when the bacteria first enters the body, for some, there are no symptoms, others experience fever or an ongoing cough. People with a healthy immune system will not develop any symptoms. But for others, the bacteria grow and develops into active disease. Most TB infections are asymptomatic, followed by a latent TB infection.
Latent TB infection is when the bacteria is in your body and is only found by screening and tests, but is not active (no symptoms), and is not spread to others.
Active TB is when the bacteria is active and multiplies. You feel ill and are contagious. To avoid complications and infecting others, medical help is needed immediately. Active TB is likely to enter the active stage in people who have got the infection in the last two years. It develops in those with weakened immune systems as a result of malnutrition, old age, those with HIV and those undergoing chronic medical treatment.
When it becomes active, symptoms slowly start to appear. Most people start with a bad cough that doesn’t go away or chest pain. Other symptoms are feeling unwell, phlegm with blood droplets, fever, night sweats, chest pain and weight loss.
Screening for Tuberculosis is done by a sputum or blood test. If positive for TB, more tests are necessary to verify which antibiotics would be most effective. X-rays, CT and MRI scans may be needed to look for further signs of TB in the body and where it may be located.
Even with treatment TB bacteria take a long time to kill off. Treatment requires careful adherence to taking medication to eliminate all bacteria and to avoid developing drug resistance, supervised treatment can last for six months or more. People with latent TB probably only need one or two drugs, while those with active TB may need a combination of three or four antibiotics.
One of the biggest worries during treatment is people stopping their medication before the bacteria dies. Any leftover bacteria can continue to grow and becomes resistant to antibiotics. This makes TB much more dangerous and harder to treat.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), TB and COVID-19 are both infectious diseases that attack primarily the lungs. Both diseases have similar symptoms such as cough, fever and difficulty breathing. Tuberculosis, however, has a longer incubation period and a slower onset of the disease.
While the information on COVID-19 infection in TB patients is limited, it is anticipated that people ill with both TB and COVID-19 may have a poorer treatment outcome, especially if TB treatment is interrupted. TB patients should take precautions as advised by health authorities to be protected from COVID-19 and continue their TB treatment as prescribed.