The bane of over 2 million people the world over, tuberculosis is one of the most dangerous diseases in the world. This bacterial infection can spread to any part of the human body through the lymph nodes and has the habit of lying dormant in the human body, just biding its time for the body’s immunity to lower. It is contagious and usually affects the lungs of the body and is caused by the bacteria Myobacterium Tuberculosis.

This disease can spread through air but usually requires prolonged contact with someone who is actively carrying the disease to morph into an infection. While it is considered to be a contagious disease it is hard to catch it. TB or tuberculosis, is considered to be one of the most dangerous diseases in the world today and governments around the world are actively working to eradicate it. It is for this reason that March 24 has been declared the World TB Day. It is an effort to inculcate awareness about the disease and how it continues to have epidemic proportions across many regions in the world.

Let’s take a closer look at this dreadful disease:

Causes

Caused by bacteria that are spread through the air, the cause for tuberculosis was first discovered by Dr. Robert Koch in 1882. The TB bacillus, or bacteria that causes this infection is spread through microscopic droplets released by an individual carrying active, untreated TB sneezes, coughs, speaks etc. Chances are that you can contract TB from someone you know, rather than someone you don’t. This disease requires proximity to patient zero in order to spread. This is why caregivers are at great risk for this disease. Contrary to perception, sharing your food with a patient or shaking hands with them does not put you at risk.

Those with HIV have their immune systems ravaged by this disease, this often makes them way more likely to contract TB. Those with a weakened immune system are more prone to this disease. The disease can be either active or latent in the human body. The active form of the disease can show symptoms and be actively contagious to others. In the latent form, the disease is not contagious, the individual still has TB bacteria in their system but they are being suppressed by the immune system.

Symptoms

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There are number of symptoms that point to TB, however, many of them are easy to miss thus making diagnosing the disease in the absence of tests so difficult. Latent TB can be detected by tests but may not show any symptoms, active TB will show the following symptoms:

Coughing that lasts for more than three weeks is one of the most famous tell-tale signs of TB

Coughing up blood

Chest pain, or pain while breathing and coughing can also point to this disease

Weight loss that cannot be explained in the recent months is also a symptom

Fatigue and fever are two things that are common to most people exhibiting TB symptoms

Night sweats and/or chills are also something that could be seen as a symptom

This disease usually kills the appetite

There are different indications when the disease affects different parts of your body. It can affect one’s kidneys, lungs, spine or even the brain.

Risks

TB can affect anyone, however there are certain situations and conditions that can put you at greater risk than most to contract this disease. If you have a weakened immune system, TB will find it very easy to get a foothold in your body. Diseases like diabetes, kidney diseases, chemotherapy, malnutrition, are just a few that can cause your body to have a weak immune system. Traveling to Africa, Eastern Europe, Carribbean, parts of Asia and Russia could put you at a greater risk because of the sheer intensity of the spread of the disease there.

People with low income usually can’t afford treatment or even diagnosis and are hugely susceptible to this disease. Substance abuse in the form of IV drugs or alcohol abuse can deteriorate your immune system making it difficult for the body to fight of the disease. If you are living near a TB patient or are a healthcare provider or living in a refugee camp or shelter your chances of contracting this disease increase.

Precautions

India has the highest burden of this disease in the world. With almost 12 lakh new people being diagnosed with TB in India, the government and authorities need to seriously relook at their TB control program.

In terms of precautions, the BCG vaccine, or the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine was developed in the 1920s and is a part of the childhood immunization program. Over and above this, try not to spend too much time in close confines with those who have an active infection. Get yourself tested regularly and most importantly, when travelling to places with a high frequency of this disease use masks.

TB may have a grip on the world and India now, but with dedicated efforts and a collective will of the people, this disease too can be eradicated.

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