World Tuberculosis Day: Experts hope to tackle tuberculosis by 2030. (Source: Getty Images)
"COVID-19 is highlighting just how vulnerable people with lung diseases and weakened immune systems can be," Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, was recently quoted as saying by the body in a release on the occasion of World Tuberculosis Day 2020.
Tuberculosis (TB) is deemed the world's top infectious killer. It is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) that usually affects the lungs. In 2018, about 10 million people worldwide were diagnosed with TB, with 1.5 million people losing their lives as a result, according to WHO. The disease, however, is curable and preventable.
As the world still battles the coronavirus pandemic, doctors suggest that it is time people gain more awareness about TB too. Dr Vikas Maurya, senior consultant & HOD, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, pulmonology / chest and sleep medicine, told indianexpress.com, "TB is also a communicable disease and spreads via droplets and fomites (objects that can carry infection)." When those with lung TB, for instance, cough, sneeze or spit, the TB germs are released into the air, which in turn, could be inhaled by another person and infect him or her.
"This is the time that people who have understood coronavirus, should understand TB also. This is important, not just for us but for the family and relatives. Patients of tuberculosis need to keep in mind that they have to take all the necessary precautions, including hand hygiene, cough etiquette or wearing a mask when they are sputum positive or they can spread it to other people, just as in the case of coronavirus," added the doctor.
Apart from the regular precautions, TB patients also need to go under quarantine. "Even after starting the medication, those who are sputum positive, which remains for at least three to four weeks, need to be in isolation at home during this period," advised Dr Maurya.
Symptoms of coronavirus and tuberculosis include cough and fever. (Source: Getty Images)
Symptoms of TB v symptoms of coronavirus
The symptoms for both TB and coronavirus can include fever and cough. So, how does one tell the difference? Dr Maurya explained, "In case of TB, you may have persistent cough for nearly two weeks, yellow sputum or blood in sputum, and also fever. But the fever in this case is of low grade with evening rise of temperature, as compared to coronavirus where fever is initially low but later, it is of high grade. In TB, you will also have night sweats. And then there are symptoms according to the site of TB. For instance, in case of stomach TB, there could be stomach pain and constipation or in case of TB in kidney, there will be blood in the urine. Lung TB, however, is the most common as it spreads via droplets."
What to do if you show symptoms?
For a common person, it is very difficult to differentiate if they have TB or not. "If they are not diagnosed, they might spread it to others. So, if the symptoms are persistent, apart from taking usual precautions, they should visit the hospital. The OPD at some hospitals are still functional although routine patients are not coming. The patient can at least get a simple chest X-ray through which a specialist can easily diagnose if it is TB or not. And then the physician will take the call," he said.
Experts are now committed to tackle the TB disease by 2030. "The world is committed to end TB by 2030; improving prevention is key to making this happen. Millions of people need to be able to take TB preventive treatment to stop the onset of disease, avert suffering and save lives," Dr Ghebreyesus was futher quoted as saying by WHO.