Tuberculosis (TB) is a potentially serious contagious disease that affects almost all parts of the human body. As of 2018, India has the undesirable distinction of having the most number of TB patients in the world. It is estimated that 2.74 million reported cases of TB occur every year in India. Though TB is curable and preventable, owing to lack of awareness the disease remains to be curbed. TB mainly affects the lungs and is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium TB bacilli, which has a generation time of 15 – 20 hours.
TB can be easily identified. The key symptoms of the disease include:
Cough lasting for more than three weeks
If there’s a persistent cough that lasts for more than two weeks, it warrants further evaluation to rule out TB.
Low-grade fever for more than three weeks
Running a low temperature doesn’t always indicate TB. But when it lasts for more than three weeks, it’s better to get the TB check done.
Losing weight for no reason and in a severe manner? If so, TB may be the culprit, for the disease is known to cause Weight loss.
Coughing up blood
Coughing up blood or blood-tinged mucus (sputum) is another sign that can point to TB.
Decreased food intake
Loss of appetite along with nausea and abdominal pain leads to decreased food intake in TB patients.
1. The most important part of preventive measures is identifying people with active TB, and then curing them through the provision of drug treatment.
2. Since TB is spread through the air, coughing and sneezing by the infected without covering their nose can cause the disease to spread. Hence, cough etiquette – the action of covering nose while coughing/sneezing – must be adhered to. This way, spreading of TB from one another can be prevented to a great extent.
3. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about one-third of the world’s population has latent TB. It simply means that they are infected by the TB bacteria, but are not ill yet and hence cannot spread the disease. Preventing people with latent TB from developing active and infectious TB disease , therefore, is regarded as an important step to prevent TB.
4. Encourage the use of respirators and masks, especially in an environment where one is likely to come across TB patients. For instance, TB sanatoriums. This way one can stay safe against possible TB infection.
5. Bovine TB can be transmitted from cattle to humans. However, the pasteurization of milk helps in the prevention of TB spreading from animals such as cows to humans.
6. These days, like in the case of many other diseases, vaccination is available to prevent some severe varieties of TB. However, this makes only a small contribution to the prevention of TB.
Prevention of spread from existing patient
1. To prevent TB from spreading from a patient to a close family member, it must be ensured that the house is adequately ventilated.
2. A TB patient who coughs should be educated on cough etiquette and respiratory hygiene and should be encouraged to follow such practice at all times.
3. If diagnosed smear-positive, TB patients should:
· Stay outdoors as much time as possible
· Sleep unaccompanied in an isolated, sufficiently ventilated room
· Travel as little as possible on public transport
· Spend as little time as possible in places with a large gathering
· Take TB medication strictly and on time, as advised by doctors.
The importance of awareness programmes
Though TB is completely preventable and curable, there’s still a stigma attached to TB. Only with the help of awareness programmes, this can be eradicated.
Educating people about TB includes creating awareness about the need to receive treatment as soon as possible.
People suffering from TB should be made to understand the importance of taking treatment on time and consistently. They should also be sensitized about the highly contagious nature of this disease so that they don’t pass it to others.
Remember, advancements in medical science has made combating TB easy. With proper awareness and guidance from healthcare professionals, it’s possible to eliminate TB from the world.
Dr. Hemanth Kumar M, Associate Consultant Pulmonology & Dr. Anitha Jacob, Associate Consultant Pulmonology; Narayana Multispeciality Hospital, Whitefield Bangalore