World Tuberculosis Day

Unite to End TB

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB generally affects the lungs, but the bacteria can also attack other parts of the body such as the kidney, spine and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.

One-third of the world’s population is thought to be infected with TB. TB is the world’s deadliest infectious disease, with more deaths every year than AIDS or Malaria. TB is preventable and curable but still kills 3 people every minute worldwide.

Pakistan has a major TB health problem. According to the World Health Organization, Pakistan ranks fifth amongst TB high-burden countries worldwide. Approximately 420,000 new TB cases emerge yearly and Pakistan has the fourth highest prevalence of multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB globally.

24th March commemorates Dr Robert Koch’s discovery in 1882 of the cause of tuberculosis, the TB bacillus. His research paved the way towards finding a cure for the disease.

How is TB Spread

TB is spread through the air when people with active TB disease in their lungs cough, sneeze, spit or speak.

A person who has contracted the TB bacteria can either have latent or active TB. A person with latent TB does not have any symptoms of TB disease. The person’s immune system is strong enough to fight the growth of the TB bacteria and therefore does not fall sick. However, if the immune system weakens then the infection can become active and result in TB disease. People with latent TB do not spread the disease.

The symptoms of active TB are chronic cough with blood-containing sputum, fever, night sweats, fatigue and weight loss. Active TB occurs more in people with HIV or AIDS, and in those who smoke.

Diagnosis, Prevention and Treatment

Diagnosis of active TB is based on chest X-rays, as well as microscopic examination and culture of body fluids. Diagnosis of latent TB relies on the tuberculin skin test (TST) or blood tests.

Prevention of TB involves screening those at high risk, early detection and treatment of cases, and vaccination with the bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccine. Those at high risk include household, workplace, and social contacts of people with active TB.

Treatment is difficult and requires long courses of multiple antibiotics—typically at least six months for drug-susceptible TB, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Social contacts are also screened and treated if necessary. When people fail to complete the drug regimen for TB, the disease becomes resistant to treatment. It often develops into the more deadly MDR-TB.