Tuberculosis (or TB) is atransmittable bacterial infection, which is caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis and commonly affects the lungs, but can affect other organs as well.
TB is broadly categorized into active or latent TB. The active TB occurs when the TB bacteria multiply in the body and produce symptoms of TB. This type of TB can be transmitted to other people.A more lethal type of the active TB case is called the miliary TB. This is a rare form of TB in which the bacteria rapidly spreads throughout the body in the form of small nodules and can affect various organs at once.
Latent TB is one that does not manifest its true nature and causes no symptoms. The bacteria can stay in the body without the person being sick because the immune system suppresses its growth. However, there is a chance that the latent case can transform into an active one as soon as the immune system is compromised to illnesses like HIV, certain medications, or old age.
What Causes Tuberculosis?
TB is transmitted via air contact when an active and untreated person coughs, sneezes, spreading respiratory fluids into the air through any other means. Even though TB is contagious, it is not easy to catch. A person is more likely to develop TB from a person he or she lives or works with than from a stranger.
However, most people who have received suitable drug treatment for the disease will stop being contagious withintwo weeks.
Some people are more susceptible to tuberculosis infection than others. The people especially at risk of the disease include:
- Elderly people
- People infected with HIV or AIDS
- People with cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, or autoimmune diseases
- Malnourished people
The main reason the aforementioned types of people are at a higher risk than others is that they have a weak immune system which makes it harder to suppress the growth of the TB bacteria.
How to Prevent Tuberculosis
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), TB is the second greatest killer globally caused by a single infectious organism. Moreover, it is completely curable and preventable as long as the subsequent measures are effectively taken:
- Minimize risk of exposure
If one is suspected of having active TB or have received less than two weeks of the appropriate treatment, then others should take caution and abstain from being in close quarters with the infected individual. A few germs inhaled by a healthy person can make one infected as well. Wearing face masks and gloves can minimize the risk of getting TB.
- Take extra care if you are at high-risk
As mentioned above, some people have a higher risk of getting TB than others. If a person belongs to the high-risk category, he or she should take extra measures to make sure he or she does not contract TB. Aside from the high-risk groups mentioned above, people who live in close confinement with others like in prisons, small houses, shelters etc., should pay extra attention as well as those who abuse drugs and have limited access to suitable healthcare facilities.
- Take extra care when travelling to high-risk areas
People travelling to countries most affected by TB, particularly Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh and other less developed countries in Latin Americaand Africa, must get themselves tested and take extra precautions to reduce exposure to an active TB infection.
- Develop healthy lifestyle
One of the most efficient ways to protect oneself from TB is to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy and balanced food, exercising regularly, sleeping adequately, developing good personal hygiene, and restraining from consuming dangerous substances like alcohol, drugs and cigarettes.
- Take the BCG vaccine
If the chance of contracting TB is very high then one could get the TB vaccine called BacilliCalmette-Guerin (BCG). This vaccine is mainly used in high TB risk countries. However, the BCG vaccine is not as effective in adults as it is in babies. It should be used when travelling to a country where TB is widely prevalent.
What If I Test Positive for Latent Tuberculosis
If a person has tested positive for a latent TB infection then the following steps of prevention should be undertaken:
- Protect friends and family members
Even though this type of TB infection cannot be transmitted to others, the latent TB can change to an active infection. Hence, protecting friends and family members from a possible infection should be of utmost importance. This could be achieved by:
- Wearing face masks when you communicate with other people.
- Staying home until course of treatment has been undertaken.
- Keeping the room ventilated to allow limited dispersion of the TB bacteria, as they have a tendency to spread easily through still air.
- Covering the mouth with a tissue or cloth whilst coughing, sneezing or laughing, and then discarding the dirty tissues.
- Followthe required course of treatment
Taking the suitable medication and completing the course of treatment for TB as suggested by the doctor is of utmost importance. If treatment is stopped before the required period of time or doses are skipped, there is a danger that the TB bacteria will be stronger and able to survive the TB drugs. Some can develop resistant mutations, making it more difficult to treat.
To learn more about tuberculosis prevention, one can watch the following interactive video: