Demystifying tuberculosis

Demystifying tuberculosis


First comes a mere cough that is quickly dismissed as a cold. Normally, we like to treat this at home with concoctions that have been passed down generations. Before you know it, you have developed a sore throat and a dry itchy cough. This time, you take it more seriously and typical of any Tanzanian, you visit a chemist and explain your symptoms to a pharmacist (who may have never stepped inside a medicine class) who gives you an antibiotic and cough syrup.

Fast forward six months on, you are feeling worse, the flu-like symptoms, cough and sore throat doesn’t seem to go even after seeing several doctors. By now, you are starting to get very suspicious and scared and you have probably visited close to 7 different hospitals recommended by your friends and family. The diagnosis range from Tonsillitis to Malaria, to Flu and even allergies. Luckily for you, your 8th doctor is keen in how long you have had the problem and goes ahead to recommend that you have a Chest X-Ray which is when the news come back that you have Tuberculosis (TB).

The first thing that comes to mind is probably a need to confirm from your mother if you got a jab while young because you are sure that if you did, then you wouldn’t have caught the disease. Next, you begin to question your family members, spouse, co-workers and even kids because to you, then someone may have passed this on to you. By this time, you are probably hospitalized because they discover you have accumulated fluid in your lungs. If you are lucky enough, you are treated and discharged. Now, this is not any better than being hospitalized because back home, everyone fears that they may ‘catch’ what you have because it is known that it is an infectious disease. In fact, you are too aware of this and hence, you isolate yourself from everyone save your mother or spouse who is responsible for nursing you back to good health.

If this has not happened to you or someone you know, it could and here is a chance to have some knowledge on what TB really is.

What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that generally affects the lungs though it has been known to affect other parts of the body. Caused by the MTB (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) bacterium this disease in most cases does not exhibit any outright symptoms – a scenario referred to as latent tuberculosis.

An estimated 10% of these latent infections progress to the active disease stage which turns fatal for close to 40% of those who will eventually suffer from the disease. Tuberculosis exhibits its symptoms through weight loss, night sweats as well as a chronic and blood sputum filled cough.

This is an airborne disease that spreads through the air when infected persons spit, sneeze or cough. It must be however noted that persons with latent TB infections are not been known to spread the disease.  Studies further indicate that active infections are prevalent in those individuals affected with HIV/AIDS and smokers.

Tuberculosis is a disease that occurs across all age groups in all corners of the world although it is most prevalent amongst young adults and in developing countries.  Indeed, Western and sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, China and Russia have been identified as places with the highest incidences of TB globally.

The World Health Organization Global Tuberculosis Report published on 9 November 2017 reveals that cases of active TB topped the 10 million-mark globally in 2016 resulting in 1.3 million deaths.


Several diagnostic tests do exist, from the commonly used skin test. The procedure behind the skin test involves injecting an extract of the TB bacterium just below the inner part of the forearm.

Should a hard, reddish swelling appear after two or three days then there is every likelihood that TB is present.

It is important to note that the skin test doesn’t guarantee 100% accuracy and has witnessed instances where it gives inaccurate and incorrect reading.

Other diagnostic measures include blood tests, chest x-rays and sputum tests to determine the presence of the TB causing bacteria.


Isoniazid and Rifampcin are the two antibiotics have traditionally been used to kill the bacteria. Their administration through several courses of treatment can be prolonged, taking several months. Treating latent TB usually involves the use of a single antibiotic while several antibiotic combinations are used to treat active TB.

In cases where multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) has been diagnosed, the course of treatment may vary from one and half years to two years and involve a cocktail of up to four vaccines.


The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine is currently the only available vaccine. It has been known to cut the risk of infection in children by up to 20%.  It further runs down the risk of infection into disease by an estimated 6%

Other than the BCG vaccination of infants as well as the detection and correct treatment of active cases, other general and common-sense approaches to preventing the disease exist.

These include keeping away from infected people as well as donning masks, covering the mouth and ensuring rooms are properly ventilated. These measures limit the risk of the disease-causing bacteria spreading.


Anyone is susceptible to having TB either by means of infection or just by mere bad luck. If you, your family member or friend ever has TB, it is important to remember that it is curable so long as one follows medical advice given and takes the drugs as instructed.

Patience is key for the patient and for those around the patient, support is all you can offer to ensure that you ease the pain and burden of the patient which fast tracks the healing process.


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