Tuberculosis, commonly known as TB, is one of the world’s deadliest diseases. You know what? Almost 2 million people die worldwide every year because of TB.
What exactly is TB? What is the cause? Is there any treatment? What is MDR – TB? Why is it so deadly?
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What is Tuberculosis?
- Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that can spread through the lymph nodes and bloodstream to any organ in the body. It is most often found in the lungs.
- Most people who are exposed to TB never develop symptoms because the bacteria can live in an inactive form in the body.
- When the immune system weakens, such as in people with HIV or elderly adults, TB bacteria can become active.
- In their active state, TB bacteria cause death of tissue in the organs they infect. Active TB disease can be fatal if left untreated.
The bacteria that cause tuberculosis are transmitted through the air.
How a person get infected from Tuberculosis?
- Infection is most likely to occur if a person is exposed to someone with TB on a day-to-day basis, such as by living or working in close quarters with someone who has the active disease.
- Even then, because the bacteria generally stay latent (inactive) after they invade the body, only a small number of people infected with TB will ever have the active disease.
- The remaining will have what’s called latent TB infection — they show no signs of infection and won’t be able to spread the disease to others, unless their disease becomes active.
In 19th Century, Tuberculosis was responsible for as many as 25 percent of all deaths in Europe, notably among the young and the poor.
What about World Tuberculosis Day?
- On March 24, 1882, Dr. Robert Koch, a German physician, announced to the Physiological Society of Berlin that he had discovered the cause of tuberculosis (TB), a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
- Dr. Koch’s revolutionary lecture is considered by many to be one of the most important in medical history.
- In 1905, Dr. Koch was presented with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work, and in 1982, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated March 24 “World TB Day” to remember his contributions.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately one-third of the world’s population is infected with TB—and its death toll is second only to HIV.
Tuberculosis is Treatable or Not?
If the full course of medications are taken properly and regular follow-ups are done with the doctor, TB can be completely cured.
- The primary drugs used for TB are Isoniazid, Rifampicin, Pyrazinamide, Ethambutol and Streptomycin.
- The duration of the treatment varies from case to case and is at least for six months.
In India Testing and treatment are available free of cost at all government hospitals, primary and community health centers.
If it is Treatable, then why so many people die?
The bacteria that cause TB can develop resistance to the antimicrobial drugs used to cure the disease. Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is TB that does not respond to at least isoniazid and rifampicin, the two most powerful anti-TB drugs.
- Drug resistance arises due to improper use of antibiotics in chemotherapy of drug-susceptible TB patients.
- In 2014, an estimated 480 000 people worldwide developed MDR-TB.
- MDR-TB infection may be classified as either primary or acquired.
- Primary MDR-TB occurs in patients who have not previously been infected with TB but who become infected with a strain that is resistant to treatment.
- Acquired MDR-TB occurs in patients during treatment with a drug regimen that is not effective at killing the particular strain of TB with which they have been infected.
A patient who develops active disease with a drug-resistant TB strain can transmit this form of TB to other individuals.
What Are the Symptoms of Tuberculosis?
The symptoms of tuberculosis range from no symptoms (latent tuberculosis) to symptoms of active disease. In fact, a person may not even be aware that he has a latent TB infection until it’s revealed through a skin test, perhaps during a routine checkup.
The Symptoms of Active TB are,
- Overall sensation of feeling unwell
- Cough, possibly with bloody mucus
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
- Low-grade fever
- Night sweats
- Chest pain when breathing
According to the WHO, around half a million infants and children get ill with TB every year and 70000 die. Children under three years of age, especially those who are malnourished and with compromised immune systems are particularly prone to the disease.
To prevent TB in children, get them immunized with the BCG vaccine soon after birth. Drug resistance can be detected using special laboratory tests which test the bacteria for sensitivity to the drugs or detect resistance patterns.
TB prevention – the BCG vaccine
The TB vaccine called Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) was first developed in the 1920s. It is one of the most widely used of all current vaccines, and it reaches more than 80% of all new born children and infants in countries where it is part of the national childhood immunization programme.
To avoid getting an active TB infection:
- Do not spend long periods of time in stuffy, enclosed rooms with anyone who has active TB until that person has been treated for at least 2 weeks.
- If you live with someone who has active TB, help and encourage the person to follow treatment instructions.
Watch this Educational Video about Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis in India
India is the country with the highest burden of TB. The World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics for 2014 give an estimated incidence figure of 2.2 million cases of TB for India out of a global incidence of 9 million.
Each year 12 lakh (1,200,000) Indians are notified as having newly diagnosed TB. In addition at least 2.7 lakh (270,000) Indians die.
India has a large burden of the world’s TB, one that this developing country can ill afford, with an estimated economic loss of US $43 billion and 100 million lost annually directly due to this disease.
The Indian government’s Revised National TB Control Programme (RNTCP) started in India during 1997. The program uses the WHO recommended Directly Observed Treatment Short Course (DOTS) strategy to develop ideas and data on TB treatment.
Today India’s TB control program needs to update itself with the international TB guidelines as well as provide an optimal anti TB treatment to the patients enrolled under it or it will land up being another factor in the genesis of drug resistant tuberculosis.
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