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Tuberculosis

  • What is Tuberculosis?

    Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis. It affects mainly the lungs in pulmonary tuberculosis but can also infect other organs of the body. Tuberculosis is an airborne disease and is spread through the inhalation of droplets that disperse in the air when an infected person (with active tuberculosis) sneezes, coughs or laughs.

    If not treated promptly and properly, active tuberculosis can lead to serious health complications. Not everyone with a tuberculosis infection becomes sick and develops symptoms, ie. develops active tuberculosis. In some people, the bacteria can remain dormant and not cause any symptoms.

    • People who spend a long time around a person with untreated active tuberculosis have a high risk of contracting the infection if they inhale the respiratory droplets spread by the infected person
    • People with a weakened immune system, due to AIDS, cancer, a drug addiction or have an underlying disease such as diabetes, are also at greater risk of developing active tuberculosis
    • Tuberculosis is one of the main diseases linked to poverty because it is closely associated with malnutrition and overcrowding (since bacteria spreads easily among people in densely populated places)
  • People with active pulmonary tuberculosis may develop the following symptoms:

    • Coughing up blood
    • Difficulty breathing and wheezing
    • Tiredness
    • Fever and chills
    • Loss of appetite
    • Persistent cough
    • Sweating excessively, mainly at night
    • Weight loss
  • Treatment of active pulmonary tuberculosis aims to fight the tuberculosis-causing bacteria. They include:

    • A combination of anti-tuberculosis drugs to be taken for 6 – 9 months. The most common drugs include:
      1. Isoniazid
      2. Rifampcin
      3. Pyrazinamide
      4. Ethambutol
      5. Streptomycin
    • Avoiding contact with other people by either staying at home or getting admitted to the hospital to prevent the infection from spreading
    • Drugs that need to be taken regularly as prescribed until the bacteria is killed, even if symptoms have disappeared, to prevent the bacteria from developing resistance to the drugs (cure rate is greater than 95% if the patient follows instructions)
    • Taking a different set of drugs if the tuberculosis bacteria becomes resistant to the initial drugs used. The different set of drugs tend to have greater side effects and need to be taken over a longer period
    • The World Health Organisation DOT (directly observed treatment) programme involves supervising tuberculosis patients to take the correct dosage and combination of anti-tuberculosis drugs
    • Life-threatening complications can occur if a multi drug-resistant tuberculosis infection occurs
    • Permanent lung damage can occur if tuberculosis treatment is not received
    • Tuberculosis infection can spread to other body organs, such as those in the gastrointestinal system, the brain, the bone and the central nervous system, leading to serious complications
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