Tuberculosis (TB) is an airborne disease, caused by bacteria, that affects the lungs. When a person with TB coughs, sneezes or spits, they spray the TB germs into the air and an uninfected person only needs to inhale a few of these germs to catch the disease. Thankfully, TB is both curable and preventable.
TB remains the world’s deadliest infectious killer though with around 100, 000 cases every year in Nigeria alone. Without proper treatment, almost half of all people with Tuberculosis will die.
World Tuberculosis Day (March 24) commemorates the day in 1882 the bacterium that causes the disease was discovered. At the time, the disease was raging through Europe and the Americas, causing the death of one out of every seven people. This discovery opened the way towards diagnosing and curing this disease.
Who is most at risk?
Tuberculosis mostly affects adults and over 95% of cases and deaths are in developing countries. In 2017 though, one million children below 14 years old had the disease and 230 000 children (including those with HIV associated TB) died from the disease.
Kinds of Tuberculosis
Doctors make a distinction between two kinds of tuberculosis infections: latent and active. When latent, the bacteria remains in the body but causes no symptoms and are not contagious. When active, the bacteria causes symptoms and can be transmitted to others.
About ¼ of the world’s population has latent TB and have up to a 15% lifetime risk of falling ill with TB. People who smoke, are malnourished or have HIV have a much higher risk of falling ill.
Common symptoms of tuberculosis
· Cough with sputum and blood
· Chest pains
· Weakness and weight loss
· Fever and night sweats
When a person develops active TB, the symptoms may be mild for many months. This can lead to delays in seeking care, and result in transmission of the bacteria to others. People with active TB can infect 15 other people through close contact over the course of a year.
If you feel any of these symptoms, please go to see a doctor immediately. Your Hygeia HMO plan provides free doctor consultations.
Tuberculosis can be diagnosed by examining samples under a microscope. More modern techniques include a skin test or a blood test.
Tuberculosis is treated with a standard 6 month course of 4 antimicrobial drugs provided with supervision and support to the patient by a health worker. Without such support, treatment adherence can be difficult and the disease can spread. The vast majority of TB cases can be cured when medicines are provided and taken properly.
Between 2000 and 2017, an estimated 54 million lives were saved through TB diagnosis and treatment.