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Tuberculosis

  • What is Tuberculosis?

    Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis. It affects mainly the lungs (pulmonary tuberculosis), but it can infect other organs of the body. It is an airborne disease and is spread to prone individuals through the inhalation of droplets which disperse in the air when an infected person (with active tuberculosis) sneezes, coughs or laughs.

    If not treated immediately and properly, active tuberculosis can lead to serious health complications. Not everyone with TB infection becomes sick and develops symptoms, ie. develops active tuberculosis. In some people, the bacteria can remain dormant and does not cause any symptoms.

    • People who spend a long time around a person with untreated active tuberculosis have a high risk of getting infected if they breathe in the respiratory droplets spread by the infected person.
    • People with a weakened immune system (due to AIDS, cancer, or drug addiction) or have an underlying disease like diabetes, are also at greater risk of developing active tuberculosis.
    • TB is one of the main diseases linked to poverty and is closely linked with malnutrition (lack of nutrition) and overcrowding (bacteria spreads easily between people in densely populated places).
  • People with active pulmonary tuberculosis infection can develop the following symptoms:

    • Coughing up blood
    • Difficulty breathing and wheezing
    • Tiredness
    • Fever and chills
    • Loss of appetite
    • Persistent cough
    • Sweating excessively, mainly at night
    • Weight loss
  • Treatment of active pulmonary tuberculosis aims at fighting the tuberculosis-causing bacteria, and these include:

    • A combination of anti-tuberculosis drugs, to be taken for 6 – 9 months. The most common drugs include:
      1. Isoniazid
      2. Rifampcin
      3. Pyrazinamide
      4. Ethambutol
      5. Streptomycin
    • Avoid contact with other people by staying at home or being admitted to the hospital, to prevent the infection from spreading
    • Drugs that need to be taken regularly as prescribed, until the bacteria is killed even if symptoms disappear, to prevent the bacteria from developing resistance to the drugs used (cure rate is greater than 95% if the patient follows instructions)
    • If the tuberculosis bacteria becomes resistant to the drugs used, a different set of drugs is used, which have greater side effects and need to be taken for a longer period
    • The World Health Organisation's DOT (directly observing treatment) programme involves supervising tuberculosis patients to take the correct dosage and combination of their anti-tuberculosis drugs
    • Life-threatening complications can occur if a multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis infection occurs.
    • Permanent lung damage can occur if treatment is not received.
    • Tuberculosis infection can spread to other body organs including the gastrointestinal (GI) system, the brain, the bone and the central nervous system, leading to serious complications.
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