Tuberculosis popularly known as TB is a potentially severe infectious disease that generally affects the lungs. TB causing bacteria are spread from one individual to another through tiny droplets released into the atmosphere through sneezes and coughs.
Though your body may harbour the TB causing bacteria, your body immune system normally can stop you from becoming sick. This is why doctors have classified TB into two forms;
Latent TB: This is a condition whereby one has TB infection, but the bacteria remain in the body in an inactive form and do not cause symptoms. Latent TB or TB infection or inactive TB is not contagious, though it may become active. Treatment is therefore important for an individual with latent TB as it can help control the spread of TB.
Active TB: This is the condition that makes a person sick and is contagious. It occurs either in the first few weeks after infection or in later years.
Symptoms of Active TB include; cough, fatigue, fever, chills, night sweats, unintentional weight loss and loss of appetite.
TB usually affects the lungs and symptoms include:
- Coughing that lasts for more than 3 weeks,
- Chest pain or pain while coughing or breathing
- Coughing up blood or sputum.
TB may also attack other parts of the body such as the kidney, brain or the spine. Symptoms for these attacks vary depending on the affected organ.
For instance, when TB affects the kidney, blood may be present in the urine.
It’s advisable to see a doctor if you experience any of the symptoms of TB so that tests can be performed.
Causes of TB
TB is caused by bacteria that are spread from one person to another through tiny droplets released into the air through coughing; sneezing; talking; spitting or singing. Despite being contagious, it is not easy to get TB, hence it’s not likely for one to get infected by a stranger, but rather by a person that you spend more time with at home or at workplace. Mostly people with active TB who have had proper drug therapy for at least two weeks are not contagious.
HIV and TB
HIV and TB have a deadly relation. HIV infection represses the immune system, making it hard for the body to control TB causing bacteria. As such, people with HIV are more likely to contract TB and to progress from inactive to active TB than people who are HIV negative. This is why people have always associated TB with HIV.
Also TB has remained a major killer due to the increased drug resistant strain of the bacterium. TB germs have developed the ability to survive antibiotics that were used to treat TB 60 years ago, and they are passed through descendants. Drug resistant strain occurs when an antibiotic can no longer kill all the bacteria it targets.
TB can get anyone but there are particular factors that heighten ones risk of getting the disease. They include:
- Weakened immune system: caused by some diseases and medications such as HIV/AIDS, certain cancers, cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, end stage kidney disease, diabetes, malnutrition, very young or old age, some drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and Crohn’s disease.
- International connection: people who travel to or travel to countries with high rates of TB such as India, sub-Saharan Africa, China, Mexico, and parts of the Soviet Union.
- Poverty: people with low income or in the rural may have no access to medical care required to diagnose and treat TB.
- Substance abuse: long term drug use including alcohol weakens the immune system making a person susceptible to TB. Smoking also raises the risk for TB.
- Place of work or residence: people living in refugee camps and healthcare workers are at a great risk of getting TB.
If TB is not treated, it can be lethal. Active TB usually affects the lungs but can also spread to the brain, spine, liver or kidneys as well as to the heart.
TB is mainly treated by the use of medications, treating TB usually takes longer than other bacterial infections. TB medications are taken for period of at least 6 months. Vitamin D enhances effectiveness of TB medication. Side effects from TB medication are rare although they can be serious if present. They include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dark urine, and fever that lasts for days.
Completing TB medication is very essential.
TB can be prevented through vaccination, completing medication, covering mouth when sneezing, ensuring your house is well ventilated among other health measures.