Until Covid-19 came along in 2020, tuberculosis (TB) was the biggest infectious killer worldwide, including India. Worldwide, there are around 10 million new cases of TB annually, and 26% of these are from India alone based on the last WHO survey. TB accounts for approximately 1.5 million deaths annually. India has the highest number of TB cases and deaths of any country in the world.
However, as a result of an aggressive international program to end TB by the WHO and the government of India, great strides were made in 2019 with a significant increase in detection and reporting, and therefore treatment of TB cases. Unfortunately case detection and reporting took a significant step back in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and some hard won strides were lost in many countries but none more notably than in India.
In an exclusive interaction with OnlyMyHealth editorial team Dr. Soumya Parimi, Consultant Pulmonologist, Apollo Clinic, explains that when looking for solutions for this deadly yet largely curable disease we need to take a step back and identify the causes.
The majority of cases of TB are detected in a small number of countries in the world, and India is among them. Poverty, malnutrition, and overcrowding are significant contributors to an increased risk of TB.
Other major risk factors are smoking, alcohol use, and diabetes. TB is a communicable disease, which means that it can spread from person to person through bacteria transmitted from coughing. While TB may affect nearly any organ of the body, TB involving the lungs (Pulmonary TB) is highly infectious and transmissible.
Early Diagnosis Of Tuberculosis
Early diagnosis of cases and initiation of treatment are essential. Communities need to be aware of the symptoms that may include some, but not all of these, – cough, fever, sweats, weight loss, breathing issues, coughing up blood. The earlier someone is started on treatment, the less likely they are to infect others around them.
However, unlike Covid-19 that may only take a few minutes of a single exposure to infect someone, it usually takes prolonged exposure in close quarters for another person to get infected with tuberculosis. Identification of close contacts of confirmed TB cases (specifically TB of the lung), and timely treatment to prevent TB is also important, especially for young children who are more vulnerable.
Treatment Of Tuberculosis
Patients need to understand that treatment constitutes at least six months of multiple TB medications to get cured without relapse.
You should have close follow-ups with health care providers, ensure compliance with medications, and complete the entire course to avoid developing drug resistant TB, which is rare but difficult to treat. The BCG vaccine has been shown to reduce the severity of TB illness in young children but does not universally protect against TB. Research is ongoing to develop more effective vaccines for TB.
In summary, there is no one simple solution to solving the challenge of TB in India. However if we can go back to implementing the successful policies and approach from our pre-Covid days, there is much hope that we can work our way towards the lofty goal of eradicating Tuberculosis in India and worldwide.