Did you know that one third of the world’s population is infected with Tuberculosis?
What is tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease that mainly affects your lungs. The bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis usually causes this infection, which may also affect other parts of the body. There are two different diagnoses possible for tuberculosis, one being active and the other latent. Although this disease is contagious, it is hard to catch. If an individual has been diagnosed with active TB and has been receiving drug treatment for at least two weeks, they are no longer contagious.
What is the difference between active TB and Latent TB Infection (LBTI)?
- Active TB has a difficult diagnosis as it has a variety of signs and symptoms. Because of this, it is even harder to diagnose immunosuppressed individuals who may be experiencing other medical problems not related to TB. Additional medical testing has to be done in order to reach an accurate diagnosis. The Mycobacteria responsible for the infection can be spread to others through droplets in the air, expelled from the infected individual and inhaled by the recipient. This can be done through coughing or laughing. Antibiotics are used to treat this contagious active disease.
- Latent TB infection has the ability to convert to active TB, so it is imperative to identify those with LBTI before the disease has the chance to progress and infect others. The only two ways to detect LBTI is through a blood test and Tuberculin Skin Test. LBTI cannot be spread to others since it is not active. Antibiotics are used to prevent conversion to active TB.
Tuberculosis is the leading killer of those infected with HIV.
What are the signs and symptoms of active TB?
Symptoms include coughing that lasts for three or more weeks, coughing up blood, chest pain, fever, fatigue, night sweats, chills, loss of appetite, and unintentional weight loss. Most individuals who are infected with the bacteria that causes TB do not develop active TB.
Who is at risk for latent TB Infection?
Children less than 4 years old, the elderly, HIV positive individuals, transplant patients, immunosuppressed individuals, and those who have been infected with TB within the past 2 years are risk groups that have a higher chance of conversion to active TB.
How can TB be prevented?
First, it is important to stop the spread of TB from one individual to another. In order to avoid this, proper identification of infected hosts needs to be done to then treat them. Secondly, preventing the conversion of latent TB to active is imperative, as this is a good way to put a halt to the possibility of transmitting the disease. The TB vaccine, Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG), is mostly used to protect children since it has been found to not work that well in adults.
Healthy people who are infected with TB only have a 10% chance of it converting to active TB over their lifetime.
What are some precautions to take?
If you are living with someone who has infectious TB:
- Houses should be ventilated
- Coughing etiquette and respiratory hygiene should be taught and practiced at all times.
If you are a positive TB patient:
- Spend plenty of time outdoors
- Sleep alone in a separate and ventilated room
- Spend little time on public transport
- Spend as little time as possible in places where large numbers of people gather.
It’s also important to do research on particular countries you may be traveling to, as some countries have high rates of tuberculosis and drug-resistant tuberculosis. If you work in a healthcare setting where you may be in contact with individuals infected with TB, make sure that you are wearing a mask and frequently washing your hands.
Without proper treatment, TB can be fatal or lead to serious complications. Some include heart disorders, liver or kidney problems, joint and spinal damage. As some of the signs and symptoms of tuberculosis may be a result of other medical problems, it is important to see a doctor to get a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment.