Prevention of Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is a highly contagious respiratory infection that has the potential to infect many people in the community. It is treatable, but can be fatal if left untreated. In 2014 alone, over 9 million people all over the world contracted TB. Through education and prevention of Tuberculosis, the cases in the United States have actually dropped dramatically to just over 9,000 cases diagnosed in the year 2014.

Tuberculosis, which we will refer to as TB, is a bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. It affects the lungs, but can spread to major organs such as the brain, kidneys, and the spine. It is transmitted via droplet when someone with TB coughs or sneezes. Less commonly, it can be spread through speaking and others in the same room can be exposed.

Prevention of Tuberculosis

It’s of utmost importance that prior to the TB diagnosis, the community should be educated on signs to watch for as well as measures to be taken for prevention. Education on prevention needs to be given to anyone who has a positive TB test, but not infection (latent TB), and continued for those with someone close who has TB. Here are some tips for each category:

Pre-TB

Community education is very important in preventing TB cases because there are areas of population without access to good medical care. In urban and rural settings, there may be financial or transportation issues. While people in the community aren’t doctors, they can be trained to spot symptoms and help others in the community find affordable or accessible healthcare. This has been helped by the placement of “TB Education” posters in may community centers, clinics, and health services facilities.

The symptoms of tuberculosis are:

  • Cough lasting over 3 weeks
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Fever and chills
  • Blood in sputum
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chest pain

Symptoms can mimic other respiratory infections so if you have a cough lasting 3 weeks or more it is important to get checked by your doctor.

Latent TB

If you have a positive TB skin test, you will be sent for a chest x-ray to check for active infection. If the chest x-ray is negative, you will be diagnosed with latent TB and most likely watched or placed on prophylactic antibiotics if you are high risk. You are not considered contagious with latent TB, but need to understand the signs of active TB for prevention of tuberculosis being spread to others if you do become infected.

Active TB

If you have active TB and undergoing treatment, you will need to take certain precautions to prevent the spread of TB. This is usually only necessary in the first weeks of antibiotic use, but your doctor will tell you when it’s okay to be around others.

Here are some tips for preventing TB in others if you have an active infection:

  1. Keep to yourself. Stay away from others and keep to yourself at home. During the first few weeks, limit your trips away from home. When sleeping, use a room that others do not sleep in.
  2. Use a facemask. You can get surgical masks at your drugstore. Wear them when you are around others or in public while the doctor says you are contagious. This is usually during the first few weeks after starting treatment.
  3. Keep windows open or use the air conditioner. Air out your room and use something that filters air. TB thrives in closed up environments without air movement. If it’s cold outside, keep your windows closed and use a fan to circulate the air.
  4. Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. TB is spread via “droplet contact” meaning it can be spread through coughs and sneezes. Have tissues handy wherever you are to cover your mouth and nose when this happens. Make sure all your tissues are placed in their own bag and tied up so others can’t touch them.
  5. Finish all medications. The biggest thing in the prevention of Tuberculosis is finishing all of your antibiotics and taking them on time every day without missing pills. These bacteria are very strong and can become resistant to medications. This can make TB very hard to treat.

Here's the recommendation from CDC for travellers and those infected:

Vaccinations and Latest Research

Researchers are looking into the development and testing of tuberculosis vaccines for use in the United States. Third world countries that have a high rate of TB are now using the “BCG Vaccine” which helps in the prevention of tuberculosis in small kids. They are not yet able to use this vaccine in the U.S. because it hasn’t shown any effectiveness in the adult population.

Exposure doesn’t necessarily mean you will become ill with TB, but it does live in your body and will cause a positive TB test. If you come back positive for exposure, follow-up chest x-rays are done to check for active infection.

Risk Factors

Certain people are more “at risk” for TB infection if they have the following health conditions:

  • Diabetics
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Drug users
  • On Immunosuppressant drugs (Transplant patients)
  • Undertreated previous TB

Treatments

In cases where a skin test and a chest x-ray is positive or a close family member is diagnosed, you will be treated for TB. The treatment consists of antibiotics taken long-term. For active TB, treatment can last for up to 9 months. You have to take the antibiotics on a consistent schedule for the entire length of treatment. TB can grow resistant to antibiotics if they are not taken exactly as the doctor tells you to take them. Some doctors have a public health nurse follow TB cases to make sure antibiotics are being taken correctly. 

 
 
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