Every year, March 24 is observed as World Tuberculosis Day. Prior to everything else, it is prudent that we educate ourselves about this silent but deadly disease and learn how to identify its early signs. Tuberculosis, or TB, is essentially a bacterial infection that attacks the lungs primarily, while other organs like the brain, spine, or kidney might get affected as well. TB is an infectious disease and can be transmitted from an infected person to a healthy person via the air, especially if the patient coughs or sneezes. In today’s COVID-19-hit world, it has become increasingly important to distinguish between the various kinds of coughs and to know the early signs of TB.
What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is basically a bacterial infection in which the lungs are infected. Sometimes, the body can fight off the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, preventing the person from falling visibly sick. Thus, TB can be distinguished into two parts – latent TB and active TB.
Latent TB: A patient is said to have latent tuberculosis if there are no symptoms but the bacteria are present in the body. This kind of TB is also called inactive tuberculosis and in this case, the patient is not infectious. However, inactive TB can turn into active TB and hence treatment is advised.
Active TB: A patient has active TB when he/she is infectious and at risk of spreading the disease to others. Such patients are also visibly sick and must be given immediate treatment.
Signs of Tuberculosis
The following tuberculosis symptoms are very common in line with active tuberculosis. While each person may have a different experience, an indication of any one of the mentioned symptoms warrants a visit to the doctor. The tuberculosis symptoms to look out for are:
- A persistent cough that lasts longer than 3 weeks.
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Fatigue and extreme tiredness
- Tightness and pain in the chest
- Coughing up phlegm, sputum, or blood
- Night sweats or night chills
- Stunted growth in children
The above-mentioned symptoms are mostly common with pulmonary tuberculosis, i.e. TB of the lungs. However, if the tuberculosis bacteria infect the other parts, extrapulmonary TB, the symptoms vary. The presence of tuberculosis bacteria in the kidney could cause blood in the urine and back pain could be indicative of tuberculosis of the spine.
Who is at Risk of Tuberculosis?
While it is important to identify the symptoms of tuberculosis, it is also important to identify those who are at greater risk of contracting the disease, so greater precaution can be maintained. Today, on World Tuberculosis Day, awareness is important as the risk can be mitigated. You are at risk of getting infected if:
- You have come in contact with someone with an active tuberculosis infection
- You come from a region where TB is prevalent like some Latin American, Asian, and African countries.
- You are a healthcare worker and treat people who are at greater risk of contracting TB
- You have a weakened immune system due to any previous disease
- You have a history of drug or alcohol abuse
How to Diagnose?
If your doctor suspects that you could have tuberculosis and you are showing tuberculosis symptoms, then they will order a TB test for you. The tuberculosis test is of two types:
TB skin test: A tuberculosis skin test requires two visits to the doctor. During the first visit, the doctor will inject you with a PPD, which is a protein that comes from the tuberculosis causing bacteria. You must leave the injection site uncovered and must not scratch it. Some 2-3 days later, the doctor will check the site for any reactions like swelling, bumps, or redness.
TB blood test: The tuberculosis blood test is like any other ordinary blood test where blood is drawn from any vein in the arm.
TB is a disease that could be killing you silently and slowly, especially if you ignore a persistent cough that has been around for a long time. A continued cough is the first sign of tuberculosis that must be monitored, as you could be unknowingly infecting other people too. Tuberculosis must be treated immediately as it weakens the immune system and is highly infectious too.
Take this World Tuberculosis Day as a reminder to keep an eye for the signs and symptoms and take necessary precautions as soon as you spot them.