Globally, tuberculosis or TB is one of the 10 leading causes of death, observes the World Health Organization. In India, the death toll of this disease, which primarily attacks the lungs, was 423,000 in 2017 alone, reveals the Union Health Ministry’s National Anti-TB Drug Resistance Survey, 2018. The total burden of this condition that year was 1.8 million.
What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is an airborne, infectious lung disease caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium. This contagious infection can also spread to your brain, spine and other organs. The prominent symptoms of TB are severe cough that lasts for three weeks or longer, bloody or discoloured sputum, fever, fatigue, pain in the chest, breathing difficulty, loss of appetite, so on and so forth. Tuberculosis is curable after six to nine months of treatment.
Types of Tuberculosis
A tuberculosis infection can be present in your body in two forms: Latent and active. Here’s what you should know about Latent and active TB.
Latent TB: In this condition, the germs are present in your body, but your immune system doesn’t let them spread. Also, you don’t experience symptoms, nor are you contagious. But the germs may become active at any point of time, especially if your immune system is compromised for some reason. HIV or any other long-term infection can weaken your immune cells.
Active TB: In this condition, the germs multiply, and you get symptom. A person with active TB can be contagious. According to experts, about 90 per cent of active TB infections stem from a latent one.
Symptoms of Tuberculosis
You will experience signs and symptoms only if you have Active TB. As already mentioned, TB primarily attacks your lungs and may spread to other organs of the body too including your brain, spine, skin and intestines. Here are some of the symptoms you should watch out for:
- Chest pain
- Coughing blood
- Recurrent and constant cough
- Night sweats
- Loss of appetite
- Pain in breathing or coughing
- Fatigue and weakness
- Enlargement of lymph nodes (in the neck and inside the chest)
- An ulcer that refuses to heal (in case of skin TB)
- Backache, stiffness or even swelling in the back/groin (in case of spinal TB)
- Abdominal distension, constipation and a non-healing anal fistula (in case of intestinal TB)
- Severe headache and altered senses (in case of brain TB)
What Causes Tuberculosis?
You get tuberculosis from the air just the way one catches a cold and flu. When a person with TB coughs, sneezes, talks or laughs, bacteria-loaded droplets are sprayed into the air. You will catch this bacterial infection if you happen to breathe in these germs. However, it’s tough to catch tuberculosis. You can get it only if you are around someone with a lot of TB bacteria in the lungs for a long period of time. There bare high chances of catching this infection from colleagues, close friends and family members. The tuberculosis bacteria can’t survive on surfaces. So, you can’t get it by touching anything, shaking hands or sharing food and drinks.
Risks of Tuberculosis
There are several risk factors that can escalate your risk of catching TB infection. You are likely to be more vulnerable to this condition if:
- A close associate or a family member you live with is suffering from active TB.
- Your immune system is compromised due to age or underlying conditions like cancer or HIV.
- You smoke heavily, indulge in substance abuse or excessive alcohol intake.
- You are a healthcare worker.
- You have diabetes and kidney disease.
- Your nutrition status is poor.
- You are on medication for organ transplants, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and psoriasis
- You are pregnant or a new mom.
Babies and young children also have a higher risk of tuberculosis as their immune systems are underdeveloped.
This lung infection can lead to a few other health complications like:
- Permanent lung damage
- Bone and joint problem
- Liver or kidney inflammation
- Cardiac problems
- Infection or damage of your bones, spinal cord, brain, or lymph nodes
Diagnosis of Tuberculosis
The diagnosis of this condition necessitates multiple tests. Here is a low-down on them.
Skin test: In this test, also known as the Mantoux tuberculin skin test, involves the injection of a fluid into the skin of your lower arm. You will be checked for swelling after a gap of 2-3 days. A positive reading confirms that you have TB infection. However, this isn’t a very reliable test because there are chances of false positive and false negative. Your results may be false positive if you’ve been vaccinated with the TB vaccine known as BCG. The chance of a false positive increases if you have a new infection.
Blood test: Known as interferon-gamma release assays (IGRAs), these tests inform your physician about your body’s response when TB proteins are mixed with a little amount of blood.
Other Tests: In order to figure out the type of tuberculosis (active or latent), your doctor will recommend a chest X-ray, CT scan or sputum test.
Treatment of Tuberculosis
Your doctor will decide on the line of treatment on the basis of the type of tuberculosis you have. The medicines need to be taken for six to 12 months for complete cure and prevention of a relapse.
If you have latent TB, your doctor will prescribe one or multiple drugs to kill the bacteria and prevent the infection from being active. The medicines include isoniazid, rifapentine, or rifampin. You need to take them for up to nine either alone or combined. You’ll have to take the drugs for up to 9 months. For active TB, your doctor may prescribe ethambutol, isoniazid, pyrazinamide, and rifampin which you need to take for 6 to 12 months. These particular medicines can affect your liver. So you may need treatment for this vital organ as well while on TB medication.
Malnourished people are more vulnerable to TB infection and its relapse. Lack of proper nutrition negatively depletes the efficiency of your immune cells to defend you against germs including the tough tuberculosis bacteria. So, you need to feed it right with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to help it fight the germs. Here is what you should eat:
- Leafy, green vegetables to include iron and vitamin B in your diet
- Wholegrain breads and cereals
- Plenty of antioxidants through fruits and veggies like carrots, cherries tomatoes, so on and so forth
- Vitamin-C-rich foods
Prevention of Tuberculosis
Although almost all of us are potentially exposed to TB in our lifetime. However, only some people catch the infection. Here are the ways to keep it at bay:
Vaccination: All newborns and infants should be administered the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine to protect them against TB. The vaccine enables the child to develop antibodies against the causative organism (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) of TB.
Immunity: A healthy lifestyle may prevent TB. Include fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. Eat a complete meal that includes carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Quit smoking and drinking alcohol, exercise regularly and stay fit.
Good hygiene: Simple hygienic practices like covering the mouth while coughing, refraining from spitting in public places Should be followed.