Tuberculosis: Disease with a “Killer Instinct”

Tuberculosis A highly treatable infection, which can become fatal if goes undetected. What the disease is like: Tuberculosis is an extremely infectious bacterial disease caused by mycobacteria tuberculosis. This notorious bacteria most commonly affects the lungs but also does not spare other organs such as bones especially of spine and limbs, lymph nodes, brain or kidneys. Looking at it statistically, around 1/3rd of the world’s population gets affected by this bacteria but only 10% among them manifest with the disease clinically. Tuberculosis is a disease of developing nations like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Its Spread: Being an airborne infection, mostly the bacterium hits the lungs first as a primary site, but then through the lymph nodes and bloodstream, it can reach all across the body. Spread of infection takes place from one person to another via tiny droplets that are discharged into the air by an already infected person’s sneezing, cough or normal talking. It can also occur by being in very close contact with the affected person. A pregnant female can pass on the infection to the unborn foetus. People suffering from AIDS, cancer, or malnutrition are more susceptible to catching the infection because of their weak immune system. Common Symptoms: Signs and symptoms of this disease can be easily passed off as an upper respiratory infection initially and that’s the reason sometimes this disease remains hidden for a long time. Some common symptoms can be,

  • Cough for a prolonged duration (more than 3 weeks)
  • Unexplained or unintended weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue and malaise
  • Low grade fever, usually towards the evenings
  • Chills and night sweats

In cases where lungs are affected,

  • Persistent cough, which is worse in mornings
  • Chest pain and breathlessness
  • Blood in sputum

Causes and Risk Factors: As stated above, the disease is caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis, a bacterium which thrives on organs full of oxygen and blood, such as lungs. Other than the causative organism, there are certain conditions which put the person at higher risk of getting the disease. Such as,

  • Living in close contact with an already infected person
  • Living in congested and overcrowded areas
  • Impaired or weak immune system (mostly in cases of HIV and cancer patients)
  • Long term use of steroidal therapies
  • Chronic lung disease caused by inhalation of silica
  • Low income population with poor medical services
  • Malnutrition
  • Elderly and young children

Get tested!! Before the disease digs its claws deep, get hold of it by getting examined and tested properly. Your physician will get the following tests done to reach the final diagnosis:

  • Chest x-ray to look for signs of infection in the lungs.
  • Sputum culture and sensitivity. At least three samples.
  • Rapid sputum test.
  • Mantoux test. A protein from the tuberculosis bacteria is injected just under the skin of forearm to check how the body reacts. In the presence of bacteria, a hard lump develops at the site of injection. The stronger the reaction, the greater the chance of the person to be exposed to tuberculosis.
  • Bronchoscopy to check the inside of lungs and airways.
  • CT scan when there is a higher probability of other organs being involved in the infection.

Prevention: Obviously you can’t stop breathing to avert the bacteria getting in. But you can definitely do a lot to keep a check to prevent it in getting full blown.

  • Infants can be vaccinated against it through BCG vaccine.
  • Avoid spending long periods of time in enclosed rooms with anyone who has active TB.
  • Use protective measures like face masks if you are and have to work in close proximity with an infected person.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle, exercise and eat a well balanced nutritious diet.