World Tuberculosis (TB) Day is celebrated on March 24th annually to raise public awareness about the devastating health, social and economic consequences of TB. It is also commemorated in an effort to end the global TB epidemic. March 24th marks the date in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch made the announcement that he discovered the bacterium that causes TB, heralding the way towards diagnosing and curing this disease.
TB remains the world’s deadliest infectious killer. Over 4000 die daily due to TB and approximately 30,000 people contract this preventable and curable disease. This year the theme, “It’s Time” has been adopted to urgently accelerate the response to saving lives and ending suffering from TB.
TB is a contagious infection that usually attacks your lungs but can spread to other parts of your body like your brain and spine. The bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes it. Today, most cases are cured with antibiotics. However, the treatment is for at least six to nine months.
If you have TB, you may not have any symptoms because the bacteria can live in your body without making you sick. This is referred to as “latent TB”. “Active TB” is when the bacteria starts to multiply and you start to show symptoms of the disease. Symptoms include a bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or more, chest pain, coughing up blood or mucus, feeling very weak or tired, unexplained weight loss, chills, fever, sweating at nights, having no appetite.
It may sound like a disease of the past but TB is still a present day concern. As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, don’t get sick. Avoid contact with persons with active disease as it can spread through the air. Those with active TB disease are advised to stay at home away from other people until they are no longer infectious. In particular, people with weakened immune systems, like young children, the elderly and people with HIV. Persons with active TB must seek immediate medical attention for urgent treatment. If you have “latent TB” you cannot spread the disease to others but you may be required to continue medications to prevent the disease from becoming active. Take all your medications, always cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, seal the tissue in a plastic bag and throw it away, wash your hands after coughing or sneezing, stay at home, use a fan or open windows to move around fresh air, do not use public transportation are some steps to be taken to prevent the spread of TB.
In countries with high rates of TB infection, infants are often given the vaccine. Health professionals who spend a lot of time around TB patients might benefit from the vaccine. With the proper treatment, TB is almost always curable. Doctors prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria that cause it. Medication may have to be taken for up to nine months depending on the person’s response to medication.
Dr. Raymala Maharaj
Family Medical Practice & Women’s Wellness Clinic