24th March is World TB Day – an occasion specifically created to help increase understanding of tuberculosis (TB) and the devastating health, social and economic consequences of this disease that are still being seen around the globe. Each year, World TB Day encourages people to spread information, donate funds and better understand the disease, so that as a global community we can all take a step forward in putting an end to the TB epidemic.
What is TB?
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection. Pulmonary TB, which affects the lungs, is the most contagious strain of the disease, but there are other strains that can affect people’s bloodstream (Miliary TB).1
There is also a form of the disease known as latent TB. This causes no overt symptoms but can progress to either of the other two types of TB without warning.
A global issue
In 2020 alone, tuberculosis is estimated to have killed over 1.5 million people. It is also thought that at least 10 million new cases of the disease were recorded during this timeframe, with leading countries suffering from the disease including India, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.2
However, that’s not to mean that TB doesn’t still present a threat in the UK. Over the last 20 years, TB has been making a steady resurgence. Now, there are about 7,000 new cases of the disease here every year.3 The Coronavirus pandemic has also led to a greater resurgence of the disease across the globe. Through lack of resources and lockdowns preventing diagnosis, TB cases have risen significantly in the past two years.4
Symptoms, spread and treatment
The main symptom of TB is a persistent cough that doesn’t improve within three weeks. This cough may bring up phlegm or blood. Weight loss, high temperature and night sweats are other symptoms. Some people may experience a loss of appetite and swellings in the neck.5
TB is spread through the air from person to person. When someone with the disease coughs, speaks or sings, respiratory droplets containing TB bacteria are expelled into the air. If someone breathes these in, they are then at risk of becoming infected.6
In some cases, the body’s natural immune system will kill TB bacteria. When a case is confirmed, treatment involves a six-month course of antibiotics. Some strains of TB are immune to certain antibiotics, meaning excess treatment with more medications may be necessary.
In the UK, the BCG vaccination is offered to babies and children and adults under the age of 35 who are at risk of catching TB.7
Help spread the word
With World TB Day just around the corner, now is an excellent time to brush up on your knowledge and better understand how TB is spread and what impact it can have on people’s health.
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1 National Jewish Health. Tuberculosis: Types. Link: https://www.nationaljewish.org/conditions/tuberculosis-tb/types [Last accessed February 22].
2 World Health Organization. Tuberculosis – Key Facts. Link: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tuberculosis [Last accessed February 22].
3 NHS. Tuberculosis Fact Sheet. Link:
http://www.leicestershospitals.nhs.uk/EasysiteWeb/getresource.axd?AssetID=828#:~:text=Over%20the%20last%2020%20years,every%2010%2C000%20of%20the%20population. [Last accessed February 22].
4 South China Morning Post. As world grapples with coronavirus pandemic, tuberculosis is having a resurgence. Link:
https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/3098820/world-grapples-covid-19-pandemic-tuberculosis-having-resurgence [Last accessed February 22].
5 NHS. Tuberculosis Overview. Link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tuberculosis-tb/#:~:text=Tuberculosis%20(TB)%20is%20a%20bacterial,glands%2C%20bones%20and%20nervous%20system. [Last accessed February 22].
6 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How TB Spreads. Link:
https://www.cdc.gov/tb/topic/basics/howtbspreads.htm#:~:text=TB%20bacteria%20are%20spread%20through,these%20bacteria%20and%20become%20infected. [Last accessed
7 NHS. Tuberculosis Overview. Link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tuberculosis-tb/#:~:text=Tuberculosis%20(TB)%20is%20a%20bacterial,glands%2C%20bones%20and%20nervous%20system. [Last accessed February 22].