Tuberculosis is a lung ailment caused by a bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It spreads via the air through the droplets released during coughing or sneezing. If someone else breathes in the bacteria, they can also become infected. Symptoms of tuberculosis include a long-lasting cough of over three weeks, sudden weight loss, fatigue, and fever. Doctors usually recommend antibiotics for several months as a treatment for this. Most people infected with TB do not develop the disease. But some people may be susceptible to latent TB infection. More precisely, they have the bacterium in their body without any symptoms. People with latent TB can still spread the disease to others. WHO reported 1.5 million TB deaths across the globe in 2020, which was one of the leading fatal infectious ailments after COVID-19.
As mentioned, people with TB can develop various symptoms, including coughing up blood, discomfort in the chest, breathing trouble, fatigue, fever, and weight loss. If not treated promptly, TB can turn fatal. One can take proper TB tests for diagnosis. These consist of a blood test, an X-ray of the chest, and a skin test. MyBioSource informs that events like World TB Day, celebrated on March 24, help spread awareness about its impact and more for disease control and prevention. They suggest that it continues to cause more than 4500 deaths daily.
COVID-19 and TB
According to the reports, the pandemic substantially affected TB tests in the country. As per CDC, TB illness diagnosis went down by 20% in 2020 and 13% in 2021 than the pre-COVID times in the US. Earlier, TB tests saw a 1-2% decline every year. However, the years 2020 and 2021 broke all those records. Still, there is an understanding that this decline might be due to the spread of coronavirus, waning of TB incidence, or late or missed TB tests. Some of the logical reasons to support this include:
- COVID-19 social distancing and mask-wearing practices may have lowered the TB spread, which also tends to infect others through the air.
- Due to the crumbling of the healthcare system in the early days of the pandemic, TB tests got delayed. The coronavirus affected public health services massively, including treatments and therapies for TB.
- Another factor can be the similar symptoms of TB disease and COVID-19 that may have shrouded the TB diagnosis. TB patients who had COVID testing didn’t have any tests for TB. As a result, there are chances of misassumptions leading to missed diagnoses.
TB care and management
You should go for a diagnosis if you don’t suspect having this infection. The doctor will examine your lungs to hear the sound they create while breathing and lymph nodes for inflammation. The two most popular diagnostic tools for this are blood and skin tests. The technician injects tuberculin into the skin in the inner part of the forearm. It causes a mild prickly sensation. Tuberculin derived from the TB-causing bacterium is a type of protein extract. The test helps detect your infection with the bacterium. A positive reaction indicates you have the disease, which can be contagious too. However, the result can be available only after 48-72 hours. They will look for swelling on the site. If you get a red bump at the location, you have TB.
However, a skin test doesn’t guarantee a full-proof diagnosis. The test may not show any problem even if the person has the infection and vice versa. On the other side, blood tests can be more credible, determining the presence or absence of TB, regardless of its active or latent state. These test the person’s immunity against the TB bacteria. Hence, a blood test can be recommendable if you fall within the high-risk group of TB, but your skin test didn’t detect it. Patients with latent TB symptoms can take medications as prescribed by their doctors to prevent the development of active TB. For active cases, antibiotic drugs for 6-9 months are recommendable. However, the type of medicine and doses vary from person to person based on their age and medical condition.
You should immediately talk to your primary healthcare provider if you experience vomiting, nausea, shrinking appetite, jaundice, darkness in the urine, bleeding, or any distinctive signs. You need to note that TB drugs usually don’t cause any severity, but some side effects can be severe. These drugs are not suitable for the liver.
Nevertheless, if you get the proper treatment, your symptoms will alleviate in a few weeks, and you will not be infectious. You can also experience improved health. For this, you have to complete your medication course following your doctor’s prescription. If you skip doses or don’t complete your medication, the active bacteria can start resisting the drug’s effects, worsening your condition.
If you want to remain healthy, you must keep a watch over your body and its reactions. When you suspect developing an infection like TB, you should not delay meeting your doctor and getting relevant information about it to protect yourself. Your healthcare provider may want to know about your medical history and other details for proper diagnosis. Make sure you give the correct information.