Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis that affects our lungs.  The symptoms of getting TB are prolonged coughing, weight loss, night sweats and fever. TB is a potentially serious infectious disease and can easily spread through air when a person coughs, talks, sneezes or sings. While TB is generally associated with people from a lower economic background, the truth is ANYONE can get TB.

To understand the gravity of the matter, it’s important that you know a few facts about TB. India is the highest TB burdened country in the World. 25 percent of all TB patients in the world are in India. Also, TB ranks alongside HIV as a leading cause of death worldwide. 

Now let’s start with the good news. TB is treatable and its treatment has a high success rate. In India, TB treatment & care is available both in government hospitals and private sector health.  Despite having such treatment facilities, let’s try and understand why TB is such a big issue in India.

Why is India burdened by TB?

Poor Knowledge:  Most people who are affected by TB are cases where individuals and their peers confuse it with just a prolonged cough. People delay treatment which leads to the spreading of the disease when this can be avoided. People think TB spreads by touch, but the only way TB spreads is through air i.e when the person with Active TB Bacteria coughs, speaks, sings or talks. People think TB is not curable, however the truth is that TB is Completely treatable and curable. 

Society and Stigma: There is a desire to keep it a secret because of fears of being shunned by the community. In rural India, family members hide TB and choose to go to local general physicians who may not be best qualified to treat TB. There is an incorrect assumption, of TB being deadly or just very expensive. As a result, TB is not being treated in the initial stages, coupled with incorrect or delayed treatment only gets worse, and can lead to people passing it onto others. Society’s’ natural reaction is to isolate people with TB when the truth is that TB patients need the most help and support and isolation is not the solution to the problem. 

For Example: In the show Vicky faces a lot of stigma when the Landlord finds out he has TB, the first instinct was to ask him to vacate the house. It is normal to be scared, but isolating the people and treating them as untouchables is not acceptable. The landlord could have been more understanding and been supportive to ensure Vicky’s recovery is a smooth one.

Problem Area: Choosing to go to a known but unqualified physicians may not work. The best approach is always to visit a proper health facility that specializes in TB treatment.

Common Symptoms: 

  • Prolonged coughing for more than two weeks where the sputum (phlegm or balgam in Hindi) could be white, grey, green or even red,
  • Fever and fatigue
  • Night sweats, 
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite 

Note: People with HIV need to be extra cautious. For them, symptoms for TB often develop late and they are less likely to experience continued coughing. 

What to do when you have the symptoms:

First, get a check-up done by a qualified doctor especially if the cough has extended beyond two weeks. It is very important to remember that over-the-counter antibiotics DO NOT WORK for TB, whether they were bought from your neighborhood chemist or even if they were prescribed by a general physician you know. Remember, a TB infection requires a different treatment than a cough or cold.

Who is a proper doctor for TB: The doctor you need to visit in case of a worsening cough extending beyond two weeks can be accessed at any facility specialising in chest and lung diseases. Timely treatment for TB has an over 90% cure rate. It’s also very important that the treatment is continued for sometime after the health improves to prevent relapse.

Getting tested: Like the title says, TB is not complicated and getting tested is also a simple and painless process. Get a TB Skin Test or TB Blood test. A quick lab test on your sputum sample can confirm if the infection exists. The treatment is also available for free at Govt. hospitals and at nominal costs at private facilities.

Tuberculosis is not deadly. Getting treated timely can cure TB completely. Also, living with someone who has TB is nothing to worry about. While the infected person undergoes treatment, simple precautions such as maintaining cough etiquette, hygiene and improving room ventilation among other things can help prevent TB from spreading. If you are worried that you may have symptoms always see a doctor. 

If you need to talk about TB or get more information regarding treatment or have any doubts that you need clarity on, chat with AskNivi: http://x.nivi.io/nishedh

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