Guess what? Today is World Tuberculosis Day! And like all world [insert disease here] days, its purpose is to raise awareness so that more people know when, and how, to seek help for themselves and their loved ones. Because knowledge saves lives! So let’s roll up our sleeves and get down to business: what is Tuberculosis, and why is it important?
What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis—or TB for short—is an infection of the lungs caused by bacteria (specifically Myobacterium tuberculosis). And it is crazy common! So common, in fact, that 25% of people on the planet have TB at this very moment. That’s a lot of people!
You might be wondering how that’s possible—if so many people are walking around sick with TB, why don’t we hear about it more? Well, there’s a simple answer to that: the vast majority of people with TB don’t know they have it. Because our bodies are pretty good at fighting off illnesses, most people with TB are completely asymptomatic (meaning they don’t experience any symptoms). The bacteria simply “sleeps” in the lungs for many months or years until your body’s defense system (the immune system) is weakened by something else—like an injury, cancer, or another illness or infection. That’s its opportunity to attack. Once someone is vulnerable to infection, the TB bacteria will grow and multiply; causing symptoms, severe illness, and even death.
This is a big reason why TB is such an important issue—because people with weak immune systems are unable to defend themselves against severe illness, it’s a big problem that TB is also so common. Many behaviors and conditions weaken the body’s immune system, as well; and those also make someone more likely to develop severe TB symptoms. Here are a some examples:
Illegal drug use/abuse
Working in high-risk environments (like a healthcare facility, nursing home, homeless shelter, prison, or a mine)
Close contact with someone who has TB
Remember: these behaviors, conditions, and lifestyles don’t cause TB—they just make someone more vulnerable to developing severe symptoms. You can only get TB by breathing in the germs of someone who has it.
What are symptoms of TB?
TB symptoms are similar to symptoms of other lung and respiratory infections, like the flu or COVID-19. Here are some common ones:
Persistent cough (a cough you’ve had for many weeks)
But remember: most people with TB don’t have symptoms, and therefore won’t experience any of the above. That’s why TB testing is so important—it’s often the only way you can learn if you have TB, and the only way to differentiate it from other, similar types of infections.
How can I prevent TB?
Many terrible things have been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but one good thing is that everyone in the world is much more aware of germs, cleanliness, and avoiding infections. And luckily, many of the habits and behaviors we adopted during the pandemic can help us avoid TB, too; as well as avoid spreading it to others. Things like:
Wear a face mask around large groups of people
Practice social distancing (when socializing, put space between you and others)
Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze
Wash your hands often
Throw away any tissues after you use them
Open doors or windows often (this helps air flow through your home, which can help keep respiratory illnesses from spreading from person to person)
How can I find out if I have Tuberculosis, and how is it treated?
The most common type of TB test is what’s called a “sputum test.” For a sputum test, a healthcare worker will ask you to cough and will collect any saliva or phlegm that comes out of your mouth. Then, they’ll test it for TB (chest x-rays are also a common method to screen for TB).
And as dangerous as TB is, it’s actually very treatable! Usually, treatment involves taking one or more antibiotics regularly for a period of a few months. The only “hard” part about TB treatment is that you have to remember to take your medication regularly—if you slip up or forget often, your body may not be able to get rid of all the TB bacteria; which means it can continue to grow and make you sick, later on.
It’s true that TB can be scary, and it’s definitely a really important issue, worldwide. But in honor of World TB Day, we at Nivi have good news for you: TB testing and treatment are actually really easy not just because they’re available in many locations and completely painless, but also because, through askNivi, you have personal access to TB testing and treatment services in your area, for FREE, directly through your phone, computer, or tablet! Simply click on one of the links below to start messaging with Nivi on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger—Nivi can recommend services based on your location, and won’t share any of your information with other parties. It’s healthcare, made simple.
Want to find a place to get a TB test or TB treatment? Or maybe just want to learn more about TB? askNivi has tons of information on TB and other health topics. Chat with Nivi on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger any time and get connected to the health information and services you need. It’s private, confidential, and free!