HEALTH & WELLNESS
Tuberculosis 
Sandra Otobo, Public Health Consultant, Nigeria
12 April 2018
Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs. Compared with other diseases caused by a single infectious agent, tuberculosis is the second biggest killer, globally.
What causes tuberculosis?

The Mycobacterium tuberculosisbacterium causes TB. There are two types of TB:

  • Latent TB: Here, you have the germs in your body, but your immune system stops them from spreading. They remain in an inactive state. They cause no symptoms and are not contagious, but the infection is still alive in your body and can one day become active.

 

  • Active TB: This means the germs multiply and can make you sick. The bacteria do cause symptoms and can be transmitted to others.
Compared with other diseases caused by a single infectious agent, tuberculosis is the second biggest killer, globally
It is spread through the air. Just like a cold or the flu,when a person with TB (whose lungs are affected) coughs, sneezes, spits, laughs, talksor sings, tiny droplets that contain the germs are released. If you breathe in these nasty germs, you get infected.

TB is contagious, but it is not easy to catch. You usually have to spend a lot of time around a person who has it. That’s why it’s often spread among co-workers, friends, and family members. Tuberculosis germs don’t thrive on surfaces. You can’t get the disease from shaking hands with someone who has it, or by sharing their food or drink.

TB is contagious, but it is not easy to catch. You usually have to spend a lot of time around a person who has it. That’s why it’s often spread among co-workers, friends, and family members.

What Are the Symptoms of TB?

There aren’t any for latent TB. You’ll need to get a skin or blood test to find out if you’re infected, but there are usually signs if you have active TB disease. They include:

  • A cough that lasts more than 3 weeks
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Night sweats
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor to get tested. Get medical help right away if you have chest pain.

Who’s at Risk?

You’re more likely to get TB if you come into contact with others who have it. Here are some situations that could increase your risk:

  • A friend, co-worker, or family member has active TB disease.
  • You live or have traveled to an area where TB is common.
  • You’re part of a group where TB is more likely to spread. This includes homeless people, people with HIV, and IV drug users.
  • You work or live in a hospital or nursing home.

Treatments for tuberculosis

The majority of TB cases can be cured when the right medication is available and administered correctly. The precise type and length of antibiotic treatment depend on a person’s age, overall health, potential resistance to drugs, whether the TB is latent or active, and the location of infection (i.e., the lungs, brain, kidneys). Antibiotics are usually required to be taken for a relatively long time. The standard length of time for a course of TB antibiotics is about 6 months.

TB medication can be toxic to the liver. Potential side effects should be reported to a doctor. They include:

  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting

It is important for any course of treatment to be completed fully, even if the TB symptoms have gone away. Any bacteria that have survived the treatment could become resistant to the medication that has been prescribed and could lead to developing Multi drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in the future. MDR-TB bacteria are far deadlier than regular TB bacteria. Some cases of MDR-TB require extensive courses of chemotherapy, which can be expensive and cause severe adverse drug reactions in patients.

Directly observed therapy (DOT) may be recommended. This involves a healthcare worker administering the TB medication to ensure that the course of treatment is completed.

Prevention of tuberculosis

In some countries, Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) injections are given to children to vaccinate them against tuberculosis. The most important thing to do is to finish entire courses of medication when they are prescribed.

If you have active TB, a face mask can help lower the risk of the disease spreading to other people.A few general measures can be taken to prevent the spread of active TB. Avoiding other people, by not going to school or work, or sleeping in the same room as someone, will help minimize the risk of germs from reaching anyone else. Wearing a mask, covering the mouth, and ventilating rooms can also limit the spread of bacteria.