About one-quarter of the world’s population is infected with tuberculosis (TB) bacteria. Only a small proportion of those infected will become sick with TB. People with weakened immune systems have a much greater risk of falling ill from TB. A person living with HIV is about 20 times more likely to develop active TB.
What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) is a potentially serious infectious disease that mainly affects your lungs. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis are spread from one person to another through tiny droplets released into the air via coughs and sneezes.
Once rare in developed countries, tuberculosis infections began increasing in 1985, partly because of the emergence of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV weakens a person’s immune system so it can’t fight the TB germs. Many strains of tuberculosis resist the drugs most used to treat the disease. People with active tuberculosis must take several types of medications for many months to eradicate the infection and prevent the development of antibiotic resistance.
Although your body may harbour the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (TB), your immune system usually can prevent you from becoming sick. For this reason, doctors make a distinction between:
- Latent TB. In this condition, you have a TB infection, but the bacteria remain in your body in an inactive state and cause no symptoms. Latent TB, also called inactive TB or TB infection, isn’t contagious. It can turn into active TB, so treatment is important for the person with latent TB and to help control the spread of TB.
- Active TB. This condition makes you sick and in most cases can spread to others. It can occur in the first few weeks after infection with the TB bacteria, or it might occur years later.
Signs and symptoms of active TB include:
- Coughing that lasts three or more weeks.
- Coughing up blood.
- Chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing.
- Unintentional weight loss.
- Night sweats.
Tuberculosis can also affect other parts of your body, including your kidneys, spine or brain. When TB occurs outside your lungs, signs, and symptoms vary according to the organs involved. For example, tuberculosis of the spine may give you back pain, and tuberculosis in your kidneys might cause blood in your urine.
Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that spread from person to person through microscopic droplets released into the air. This can happen when someone with the untreated, active form of tuberculosis coughs, speaks, sneezes, spits, laughs or sings.
Although tuberculosis is contagious, it’s not easy to catch. You’re much more likely to get tuberculosis from someone you live with or work with than from a stranger. Most people with active TB who’ve had appropriate drug treatment for at least two weeks are no longer contagious.
TB can happen to anyone everywhere. Certain risk factors highly increase your chance of getting TB. These factors include:
Weakened immune system
A healthy immune system often successfully fights TB bacteria. However,a number of diseases, conditions and medications can weaken your immune system, including:
- Severe kidney disease.
- Cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy.
- Drugs to prevent rejection of transplanted organs.
- Very young or advanced age.
Preventing the Spread of TB
If you have active TB of the lungs, you can infect other people. For that reason, your doctor will tell you to stay home during the first few weeks of treatment, until you’re no longer contagious. During that time, you should avoid public places and people with weakened immune systems, like young children, the elderly, and people with HIV. You’ll have to wear a special mask if you have visitors or need to go to the doctor’s office.
If you have active TB, keep your germs to yourself. Follow these tips to help keep your friends and family from getting sick till you become infection-free:
- Stay at home.
- Ventilate the room.
- Cover your mouth while coughing sneezing.
- Wear a surgical mask.
Finish your medicines
This is the most important step you can take to protect yourself and others from tuberculosis. When you stop treatment early or skip doses, TB bacteria have a chance to develop mutations that allow them to survive the most potent TB drugs. The resulting drug-resistant strains are much more deadly and difficult to treat.
Infants often are vaccinated with bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine because it can prevent severe tuberculosis in children.
Tuberculosis in India
According to the latest report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) India accounted for 27 per cent of the total TB cases, followed by China with 9 per cent, Indonesia at 8 per cent, Pakistan (6 per cent) and Bangladesh (4 per cent). As per the report 10 million people had TB in 2018. While 26,90,000 people had TB in India, out of which 19,90,000 were notified. According to the report, TB kills 1.5 million every year and is the leading killer of people living with HIV/AIDD and a major cause of deaths due to anti-microbial resistance.
Myths and Facts for Tuberculosis
1. Myth: Tuberculosis happens only to smokers.
Fact: Smokers are predisposed to developing respiratory diseases. However, TB is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. So smoking increases the risk for developing tuberculosis.
2. Myth: TB is a poor man’s disease.
Fact: In reality, tuberculosis has broken all barriers and can affect anyone irrespective of their socio- financial background and living conditions.
3. Myth: It can be fatal.
Fact: If a patient follows the complete treatment module, then the disease is fully curable.
4. Myth: Tuberculosis is hereditary
Fact: Tuberculosis is NOT hereditary. TB is an airborne disease that is spread when a person with active TB coughs, laughs, sneezes or sings, breathing out tiny infected particles into the air. The particles may then be inhaled by others nearby.
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