The menace of tuberculosis By Fred Nwaozor

image source bccdcTUBERCULOSIS, commonly known as TB, is an infectious bacterial disease characterised by the growth of nodules or tubercles in the human respiratory organs, especially the lungs. It is a curable communicable infection that is transmitted by inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of a carrier or an infected person.

Tuberculosis (TB) mainly affects the lungs, though it can affect any other part of the body, including the glands, bones, and nervous system. Typical symptoms of TB include a persistent cough that lasts more than three weeks and usually brings up phlegm which may be bloody; loss of weight, high temperature or fever, night sweats, tiredness and fatigue, loss of appetite, overstayed swellings, among others.

TB is generally caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which could be found in food, water or unsafe environment. The type that affects the lungs is the most contagious type, but it usually spreads after prolonged exposure to someone with the illness.

Most times, it is transmitted within family members who live in the same house. In most healthy people the immune system, which is the body’s natural defence against infections or illnesses, kills the bacteria, thereby making the patient free from any form of symptom.

Sometimes the immune system cannot kill the bacteria, but manages to prevent it spreading in the body of the carrier; this means the carrier in question would not have any symptoms but the bacteria will remain in his or her body.

This mode of infection is known as Latent TB. If the immune system fails to kill or contain the infection, it can spread within the lungs or other parts of the body, and symptoms will develop within a few weeks or months.

This is known as Active TB. Latent TB could develop into an active TB infection at a later date, particularly if the patient’s immune system becomes weakened. It is estimated that, about one-third of the world’s population is currently infected with latent TB; of these, up to ten percent (10%) is expected to become active at some point. It is important to note that someone suffering from HIV/AIDS or any immune-deficiency disease is at a higher risk of contracting tuberculosis, especially when the person is not placed on a proper diet.

Thus, a HIV patient is expected to go for TB test from time to time. Pulmonary tuberculosis is the type that affects mainly the lungs, while extrapulmonary TB is used to describe the type that occurs outside the lungs. Any of the above types has the tendency of affecting the brain or spinal cord of the carrier. Bacilli Calmette-Guerin (BCG) is a vaccine for tuberculosis disease. Many foreign-born persons have been BCG-vaccinated.

BCG is used in many countries with a high prevalence of TB to prevent childhood TB meningitis and military disease. Though, the vaccine is meant only for selected individuals who have met specific criteria and in consultation with a TB expert.

For instance, BCG vaccination ought not to be administered to persons who are immuno-suppressed such as HIV patients or persons who are likely to become immuno-compromised like someone who is a candidate for organ transplant. In the same vein, BCG vaccination is not meant to be taken during pregnancy.

Even though no harmful effects of BCG vaccination on the fetus have been observed or detected, further studies are needed to prove its safety in the body of a pregnant woman. It is noteworthy that tuberculosis can be cured.

In some cases, the carriers would need a course of antibiotics, usually for six months. Several different antibiotics are used because some forms of TB are resistant to certain antibiotics. If one is infected with a drug-resistant form of TB, treatment can last as long as two years or thereabouts. Today Tuesday March 24, the world over is commemorating the 2015 World Tuberculosis Day.

The annual World Tuberculosis Day, which was recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and duly adopted by the United Nations (UN), is one of the eight official global public health campaigns marked by WHO.

March 24 was chosen to commemorate the day in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch astounded the scientific community by announcing to a small group of scientists at the University of Berlin’s Institute of Hygiene that he had discovered the cause of tuberculosis known as the TB bacillus.

The World Tuberculosis Day is aimed at building public awareness about the global epidemic of tuberculosis and efforts to eliminate the disease. According to UN, survey shows that in the year 2012, about 8.6 million people fell ill with TB and 1.3 million of the said carriers died of the disease, mostly in the Third World countries or developing nations such as Nigeria.

As the global community marks the World Tuberculosis Day, there is an urgent need for every Nigerian, both home and in the Diaspora, to acknowledge that the societal menace of tuberculosis cannot be overemphasised and that, it is indeed a deadly disease.

On this note, we ought to continually ensure that whatever we eat or drink is thoroughly boiled or washed as the case might be and also endeavour to keep our nostrils away from unwanted environmental particles such as dust.

Government and other health stakeholders should encourage the entire citizenry to ensure that they are vaccinated against TB by ensuring that the BCG vaccine is regularly made available within their reach in line with the Millennium Development Goals. Above all this ongoing crusade is a civic responsibility of every sane individual.