Living with TB
Does Tuberculosis (TB) spread through a handshake? Used utensils? Or clothes? Is it ok to live around someone who has TB?
To begin with, TB doesn’t spread through handshakes, shared utensils, clothes, hugging, or kissing. TB bacteria spread through the air when an infected person coughs, speaks or sings. When inhaled, the bacteria settle in the lungs and spreads through the blood to different parts of the body like kidney, spine, and brain. However, not everyone infected becomes sick. People who have active TB, are able to spread the bacteria. While those who have latent TB cannot.
Living with TB can take a toll on people, whether it is you getting an infection or if you happen to be living or working with someone who has it. TB is treatable and yet, misinformation, coupled with misdiagnosis by general physicians, makes TB somewhat of a dreaded disease. In India, TB is generally associated with populations belonging to lower socioeconomic status but the truth is that anyone can get TB and having the right information can both reduce the period of treatment and prevent TB from spreading.
The foremost challenge is diagnosing TB. First, one could be infected with TB and still not have symptoms for long periods of time. This is when the TB bacteria is sleeping in the body (latent) and not actively spreading (active). However, both forms of TB need treatment.
Next, TB in the early stages is generally confused with common cough and fever and obviously, cannot be treated with the same medicine. Antibiotics for cough prescribed during this period can increase the body’s resistance to TB medicines increasing the complexity in treatment.
So what should one really do?
For starters, if the cough has stayed for more than 3-weeks, it could be TB and one should visit a chest specialist without delay. An X-ray is a good indicator of TB considering other tests may or may not detect active forms.
Once TB is detected, the best way to avoid complications is to take medicines regularly and complete the full course as prescribed. You also have to visit your doctor regularly to make sure the medicine is working and that your body is tolerating it.
If you have active TB, it will take about two to three weeks of being on medicine before you’re no longer contagious. In the meantime, you’ll want to avoid spreading the disease to others.
Close proximity for a prolonged period of time is the primary cause of TB spreading and this is why family or co-workers are most at risk. You can avoid contact with family members by staying in a different room to prevent the spread and take work leave till the doctor says you can go again. Using masks, good ventilation and maintaining hygiene can help check TB from spreading.
Most importantly, ensure that you complete the course of treatment for as long as the specialist tells you. TB bacteria grow slowly but also dies slowly. If you stop too early, the bacteria can become resistant to the medicine making TB much more difficult to treat. Commit to the full course of treatment.
Eating healthily and exercising regularly keep your immune system strong and general improvements in health can show a drastic reduction in TB cases. Eat and drink healthy, stay hydrated and avoid alcohol consumption.
Finally, if you are living with someone with active TB, you may be at risk of infection as well. It’s good to be careful considering not everyone who has been infected with TB develops illness right away. As mentioned earlier, the bacteria can stay in the body in the latent form and get active later. However, small children, young adults, elderly and people with weak immunity can develop TB illness more easily. If you’re living with someone diagnosed with TB, you should get a check-up done. If the bacteria is still latent, the treatment is much faster. Timely treatments are the best approach. In these cases, the doctors would suggest intermittent visits and tests every few months to make sure the bacteria is not present in the body.
Once again, it’s important to remember that TB although a serious disease, but if treated promptly and adequately, can be cured much faster without things getting complicated. Follow a good nutritional regimen, take medicines on time, talk to your family and friends, and don’t live in isolation thinking it’s the best option.