Tuberculosis or TB (short for Tubercle Bacillus) is a deadly and highly infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs but is capable of affecting other parts of the body as well. While the disease is no longer the scary harbinger of death that it once was, and advancements in science have made it completely curable, the fact remains that the numbers of TB patients is only going up. A closer look at the statistics reveals that although the total number of TB patients is going up, the proportion of TB patients in comparison to the population is steadily declining. Scientists, therefore, attribute the rise in numbers to the growing population of the world.
TB (of the lungs) is characterised by incessant coughing. Most doctors recommend that if a cough persists for over three weeks, you should get yourself checked for TB. This is especially because the disease is highly contagious. Early discovery, say doctors, is the first step towards a speedy recovery. But how exactly does TB spread? Excessive coughing causes tiny droplets of fluid to be released into the air. These drops are laced with several thousand disease causing bacteria. These bacteria are highly likely to infect other persons who happen to be breathing the same air.
Even though great advances have been made in the treatment of TB, it is sadly a major cause of death worldwide.
Dr Digambar Behera, director LRS Institute of TB and Respiratory Diseases, states that about 30 to 40 per cent of the Indian adults are infected with tuberculosis bacteria. “With such a huge infective pool in our population, the disease keeps on occurring and will continue to be so in the future,” he adds.
In India there are about 3.8 million cases of tuberculosis and about 1.8 million new cases occur every year of which there are about 0.8 million infectious cases (there sputum is positive). They are the pool of patients who are capable of transmitting the disease to others.
It is therefore extremely important to be aware of the major risk factors of TB.
Age and place of residence, of course, are big risk factors as senior citizens are more likely to succumb to the disease; and people from regions with high rates of TB — especially sub-Saharan Africa, India, China and so on. Some other major causes of the disease are unusual weight loss, fatigue, fever and of course, persistent cough that lasts for more than three weeks. These symptoms, taken individually or collectively need not necessarily mean that the person has TB, but these should serve as warning signals to consult a good doctor.
Other groups of people who are also susceptible to the disease are organ transplant recipients, diabetes and cancer patients, and even those who are undergoing treatment for autoimmune diseases like Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis. This is primarily because TB hits those with a weak immune system most fiercely. Medications that are prescribed for these diseases tend to have a weakening effect on the immune system, leaving the body less able to defend itself against bacterial infections like tuberculosis.
Given the present situation, elimination TB would not be possible in the country before 2050, says Dr LS Chauhan, Deputy Director General (TB), Ministry of Health, India. “India contributes for one-fifth of global burden of TB,” says Dr Chauhan.
The main thing to remember in the fight against TB is that a healthy body is the best prevention against it. Eating healthy and taking care to keep our surroundings clean, and our loved ones healthy is the best defence against the disease. And if suspicious of having been infected, it is best to consult your doctor and ensure that it is properly treated. Remember, TB is completely curable.
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