How much do you know about TB? Most people would admit to thinking it is a disease of the past, perhaps something they learnt about in school as ‘consumption’ before the causes were known, and maybe even think that it is wiped out in developed countries. This month, on March 24, sees World TB Day, where organisations and researchers around the globe aim to raise awareness and, more importantly, promote research and efforts into wiping out TB entirely.
What is TB?
TB, or tuberculosis, is a bacterial infection which usually and mainly affects the lungs, but it can spread to other organs, tissue and bones. The infection causes the cells in your lungs or other body parts to be destroyed, which if left untreated results in organ failure and can be fatal. It is easily curable if caught early enough, however, using an antibiotic course which lasts six months. TB is highly infectious, meaning it can be transmitted through the air from the coughing or breathing of infected patients, but it isn’t particularly easy to catch. Most of those who do contract it have had prolonged exposure to the disease through living in a certain area where it is prevalent, or spending time with an infected patient e.g. family member.
The truth is, TB is anything but wiped out, and the rate of decline in cases in decreasing. Although it is most prolific within Africa, South-East Asia and South America, there are still many cases in the UK and USA; in 2014, 9,421 people contracted the infection. The condition can, however, be treated and cured with reasonable ease, so that’s why it’s so important that you know whether you are at risk, and what the symptoms are.
The symptoms of TB
- A cough that lasts for at least 3 weeks and/or contains blood and phlegm
- A high fever
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Tiredness and fatigue
- A swollen or tight neck
The symptoms are similar to that of the flu or any other respiratory infection, so knowing if you are at risk of the infection and spotting the possibility of TB early is vital. Those at risk are
- People who have lived in or traveled for more than three months to Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, China, Russia or the Western Pacific region
- People in close contact with infected patients
- People who inject drugs, or are HIV positive
- People who have a weakened immune system, like the elderly, the already ill and young children
What can I do this World TB Day?
The campaign for World TB Day in 2016 is all about a call to arms. The WHO have laid out a plan for the complete wipeout of TB by 2030, and if we are to meet that goal, the process of nipping epidemics in the bud and developing faster treatments and more effective vaccinations for the vulnerable needs to accelerate. It really does involve everyone uniting against this devastating infection, from the people not even at risk simply understanding the symptoms and causes, to the top charities and researchers developing ways to help end the spread of TB. So this TB day, let as many people as you can know how much needs to be done to end TB for good. You can change your profile picture on facebook to the TB red arrow, or stick up posters from the campaign material from the #UnitetoEndTB website. You can also fundraise and donate to the Stop TB Partnership, to help those less fortunate to get vital diagnoses and treatment and help stop the epidemics in high rate countries.
If you are worried about the symptoms of TB or suspect the condition, seek medical advice and run your symptoms through Isabel for information and research: