TUBERCULOSIS REMAINS A MAJOR HEALTH THREAT
Although it is overshadowed by illnesses of late like HIV/AIDS and Ebola, tuberculosis remains a worldwide health threat, causing more than a million deaths each year. Even in the U.S., thousands of people become ill with TB each year, and health care officials keep a close watch on reports of the disease to prevent an epidemic from breaking out.
Tuberculosis is still one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases. More than 1.5 million people died in 2013 from the illness and nearly 9 million fell ill from the disease, according to the World Health Organization. The vast majority of TB deaths – 95 percent – occur in poor or developing nations. The active version of the disease is expensive and difficult to treat, and new variants of the illness resistant to antibiotics are making it even more difficult.
Because of the severe health threat posed by tuberculosis, medical officials emphasize regular training and preparation to help combat this threat. Hygiene and infection prevention methods are stressed and health care workers undergo periodic training using live demonstrations and education videos for nurses and doctors to help reinforce the seriousness of TB and methods for preventing infection.
WHAT IS TUBERCULOSIS?
Tuberculosis is a widespread disease caused by bacteria. The disease is typically spread through tiny droplets released into the air by the coughs and sneezes of the infected. Health officials estimate that about one-third of the world’s population has an inactive version of the illness. The vast majority of people with latent tuberculosis – more than 90 percent – will never develop the active version of the illness. Latent tuberculosis becomes active when it begins overpowering the immune system and causing symptoms. People with latent TB cannot infect others, those with active TB can.
Tuberculosis has very severe symptoms that can cause patients to become severely ill and in many cases, die. Left untreated, tuberculosis is fatal in about two thirds of all cases. Common tuberculosis symptoms include:
- Persistent coughing that lasts for more than three weeks
- Pain related to breathing and coughing
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Coughing up blood
- Night sweats
Although TB most commonly affects the lungs, other organs may be affected by the disease, including:
- Lymph nodes
- Genitourinary tract
- Bone and joint sites
- Exterior gastrointestinal tract lining
Tuberculosis can also affect other parts of your body, including your kidneys, spine, or brain. When TB occurs outside of your lungs, signs and symptoms vary according to the organs involved. For example, tuberculosis of the spine may give you back pain, and tuberculosis in your kidneys might cause blood in your urine.
Tuberculosis most commonly kills by causing respiratory failure. Suffocation from excess phlegm and blood are also common causes of death for TB patients.
HIV AND TUBERCULOSIS
Men and women with immune systems suppressed by HIV/AIDS or other immune system disorders are at high risk of developing tuberculosis. According to WHO, one in four deaths among people with HIV/AIDS worldwide results from tuberculosis. People living with HIV/AIDS should take care to avoid situations where they may be exposed to the illness and should be periodically tested to ensure they have not contracted the illness. Educating HIV/AIDS patients, particularly those living in high risk areas, about the threat is important. The spread of healthcare education videos via the Internet has potential to be a very effective means of improving awareness of the issue.
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION
Educating the public about the risk of TB and its signs and symptoms is invaluable in stopping the spread of TB. Public health care officials around the world are using healthcare education videos, brochures, awareness campaigns and more to emphasize the threat and need for prevention and treatment.
Treatment of active tuberculosis is arduous and expensive. TB patients with active tuberculosis must take antibiotics for four to nine months. The most commonly used drugs in TB treatment include:
- Rifampin (Rifadin, Rimactane)
- Ethambutol (Myambutol)
Tuberculosis resistant to drugs can take years to cure. The seriousness of the illness and the expense of treating it make prevention a high priority.
PROTECTING HEALTH CARE WORKERS
Health care workers, particularly those working in developing nations or low-income, medically unserved populations, are at an elevated risk for catching tuberculosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, transmission of tuberculosis is most likely to occur when health care workers are working with patients who have unrecognized tuberculosis or who have not received effective treatment for the illness.
Health care workers can reduce their risk of tuberculosis and identify and treat the illness more effectively by taking a few prudent steps.
On the job, health care workers can reduce their risk of contracting tuberculosis by wearing protective masks when working with at-risk populations. Proper cleaning of medical equipment can also help. Posting signage reminding patients and health care workers of cough etiquette can also help prevent infection.
Health care workers should get a tuberculosis skin test one to two times each year. This test will inform health care workers whether they have been infected by the bacteria that causes the disease. The test will not determine whether the subject has an active TB infection.
Regular training is also important for preventing the spread of TB among health care workers. Recurring training events, including lectures, nurse education videos available from Medcom, and other professional development exercises will help health care workers remain mindful of the risk posed by tuberculosis.