Overview – What is it?
Tuberculosis is an infectious and contagious disease mostly caused by the bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It can be passed from one person to another through the air. The symptoms depend on the type of TB one has and can include prolonged coughing, fatigue and fever. People who are HIV positive are at a higher risk of contracting TB, with about 40% of HIV deaths being caused by TB.
There are 2 main forms of TB: Active TB and Latent TB. This disease can be diagnosed and treated by a doctor, but if not treated, it can lead to complications, such as spinal pain. One way of preventing oneself from getting TB is through vaccination. However, vaccinations may not be available in some countries.
Causes – What causes it?
Tuberculosis is mainly caused by bacteria (mycobacterium tuberculosis) attacking the lungs or other parts of the body, such as the brain and kidneys. It can also be caused by the bacteria, Mycobacterium bovis.
Tuberculosis is airborne. It can be transmitted through the air when a person with Active TB coughs, sneezes or spits. Once a person has undergone tuberculosis treatment for about 2 weeks, the chances of them spreading the disease to other people is reduced significantly.
Some risk factors for Tuberculosis, include:
- Being HIV positive- People living with HIV have a high risk of getting
- Tuberculosis because their immune system is weakened, leaving them less able to fight the disease.
- Suffering from other diseases that affect the immune system, such as diabetes and some forms of cancer.
- Undergoing medical treatments that weaken a person’s immune system, such as chemotherapy.
- Living in areas that have high TB rates, such as parts of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean Islands.
- Using tobacco
- Living in areas that are overcrowded and have poor ventilation.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
TB can either be Latent or Active.
- Latent Tuberculosis refers to a case where a person has TB infection, yet the bacteria is inactive. At this point, no symptoms are present, and the infection is not contagious.
- Active TB, on the other hand, refers to the case when the symptoms start manifesting and the infection becomes contagious. The infection spreads to other parts of the victim’s body.
The symptoms for tuberculosis depend on the type of TB one has. the most common type of TB from which most people suffer, is Pulmonary TB. The symptoms of this type of TB include:
- Coughing that lasts for weeks,
- Presence of blood when one coughs,
- Sweating, especially at night,
- Loss of appetite,
- Unintentional weight loss,
- Chest pains,
- Shortness of breath,
- Swollen lymph nodes.
If you suffer from any of the above symptoms, it is advisable to see a doctor as soon as possible to check if you have TB and if so receive treatment, and avoid spreading the disease.
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
Diagnosis is important to establish whether the person is infected with TB, and if so, whether is it latent or active tuberculosis. There are a variety of tests, including:
- Sputum smear microscopy, which uses a sample of the person’s sputum. The sample is looked at under a microscope to check for the TB bacteria. This test might not detect TB that is drug-resistant.
- Rapid test, which tests for TB and is able to detect the bacteria even if it is resistant to drugs such as Rifampicin.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
The treatment for this disease depends on the type of TB involved, and the level of resistance to treatment of the particular bacteria in question.
Latent TB is treated using:
- Isoniazid (INH)- Antibiotics are taken every day for up to 9 months.
- Rifampin- This is taken daily and is recommended for people who suffer side-effects from INH.
- Rifapentine and Isoniazid- They are taken together for about 3 months.
Active TB, on the other hand, is treated using the following medicines: Pyrazinamide, Ethambutol, Isoniazid and Rifampin.
TB that is resistant to many drugs is referred to as ‘Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis’, the treatment for which can continue for more than a year, up to even 2. This type of TB is treated using injectable antibiotics such as Capreomycin, Fluproquazones and Linezolid.
TB that is resistant to most common of the drugs used to treat TB is referred to as ‘Extensive Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis’.
The use of any of the drugs should be strictly monitored by a doctor and if one gets any side-effects from the drugs, such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and pain in the lower abdomen, one should see a doctor right away.
Tuberculosis medication is intended to be used over a long period of time. Patients should not stop taking the medication just because they have started to feel better.
If a person is infected with TB and they are not treated, they can die from the disease. Short of that, an infected, untreated person may suffer the following complications:
- Joint problems such as arthritis,
- Meningitis which, among other things, causes headaches or kidney and liver problems affecting the two organs’ functioning,
- Pain or stiffness in the spine, and
- Heart disorders such as inflammation due to fluid that collects in the heart’s tissues.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
- Vaccination: In many countries the Basille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine is available to prevent a person from becoming infected with tuberculosis.
- Isolation: Isolation helps to prevent an infected person spreading the disease to others. Isolation of an infected person usually occurs until sputum tests are negative for 3 consecutive tests.
- Protective clothing: People who care for TB patients when they are in isolation, should wear protective clothing
- Medication: It is important that a patient finishes their course of medication even if they start feeling well. This will help ensure that the virus does not infect others, and, in the case of Latent TB, although the patient is not infectious, completing the course of medication will help prevent the TB from being worse. Attending all doctor appointments.
- Practising hygiene: by covering the mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing and disposing of the tissue in a plastic bag so that the virus does not spread to other people.
- Ventilation at home: Ensuring that one’s living space is well ventilated with fresh air.
- Washing one’s hands after sneezing or coughing.
Being diagnosed and treated for tuberculosis is crucial in preventing the spread of the disease. If you live in a high- risk TB area, being tested regularly is advisable.
People who have a high risk of contracting tuberculosis should be checked regularly and should take the necessary precautions to protect themselves from contracting the disease.