Tuberculosis (TB) is an infection which is caught from other individuals. The infection can be caught through sharing the same air – typically when a sufferer coughs and the illness is transferred as another individual breathes in and takes on the infection. Upon contracting the infection, there are not always immediately signs of any illness – it is normally when the immune system is compromised for another reason that symptoms start to appear. The most common signs of having Tuberculosis (TB) are:
- A cough which will not go away, and is normally accompanied by the production of phlegm and sometimes blood
- Night sweats
- Fever like symptoms
- Reduction in appetite
Tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis, which typically affects the lungs. Most people will have a strong immune system and so their bodies will deal with the illness, but if not, the bacteria can spread around the body and affect other organs such as the lymph nodes, the liver and more uncommonly the brain.
Tuberculosis cases have reduced since the 1950’s due to the introduction of a vaccine, but it is still fairly common and especially in inner cities where population density is high. Absolutely anyone can catch Tuberculosis, but the risk of becoming ill from the bacteria is increased in those who are unhealthy. A good diet etc. can help maintain a strong immune system which can help the body fight off the infection. Those who are particularly susceptible to getting Tuberculosis are:
- HIV sufferers
- People with diabetes
- Those being treated with anti-cancer drugs
This increased risk is generally down to the body having a compromised immune system and therefore the bacteria has the chance to manifest itself into something more sinister than with most individuals.
Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine
The BCG vaccine is a living form of the TB bacterium. It is given to individuals, so that it is strong enough to cause the body to defend itself and build up an immunity, but no so strong as that it makes the person ill.
The second form of prevention is knowledge and awareness of the infection. If individuals understand what the symptoms are and how it can be caught, then the illness can be spotted quickly and can be controlled, with the number of people getting infected being reduced.
If Tuberculosis is identified and treated then the individual is likely to be fine. However, if it goes untreated, then it will result in death about half the time. The preventative BCG vaccination should be given to anyone who is travelling to a high TB risk zone, those who have occupations which put them at high risk of contracting the disease (i.e. old people’s homes) and those who have grandparents or parents who come from high risk countries. BCG vaccinations used to be given in school to all young people, but due to the very low levels of TB in the UK over the past fifteen years, and the prolonged exposure normally required to catch the illness, it is no longer necessary.