Tuberculosis: Do you know enough about this fatal disease?

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Don't dismiss your child's persistent cough because it just might be one of the symptoms of tuberculosis--which is potentially life threatening.

Although data show that the occurrence of tuberculosis in the Philippines is declining, the disease still poses a real threat. Infants and younger children are susceptible to developing life-threatening forms tuberculosis.

That's why it is imperative for parents to spot symptoms of tuberculosis so that a proper diagnosis and treatment can given immediately.

Definition

Tuberculosis (TB) is a potentially fatal bacterial infection. It is highly contagious and can affect the lungs and other organs.

Understanding Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis can either be latent (bacteria is present in the body but is inactive because of a healthy immune system) or active (bacteria becomes active--and thus symptoms of tuberculosis manifest--due to a weakened or compromised immune system.

Below are other types of tuberculosis:

Pulmonary Tuberculosis

The bacteria thrives in areas with a large concentration of blood and oxygen. This is why the infection is often in the lungs. As such, this is referred to as pulmonary tuberculosis. It is highly contagious because bacteria is spread through droplets, through coughing or talking, from an infected person.

Extrapulmonary Tuberculosis

This occurs when the bacteria spreads to other parts of the body.

Drug resistant Tuberculosis

Some germs developed the ability resist certain drugs and antibiotics used to treat the disease.

dreamstime m 33434657 Tuberculosis: Do you know enough about this fatal disease?

Signs and Symptoms of Tuberculosis

Most infants and children infected with latent tuberculosis, which is the first infection of the tuberculosis bacteria, will most likely not show symptoms and won't be contagious. X-ray tests will not reveal the infection as well.

Here are the symptoms of tuberculosis to watch out for:

  • Persistent cough that has thick and cloudy mucus that may be tinged with blood. Coughing may last up to two to three weeks
  • Weakness, lethargy, fatigue that may lead to weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Persistent fever
  • Night sweats
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain when breathing
  • Neck swelling, indicative of infected lymph nodes
  • Chest pain, which is rare

If the tuberculosis spreads to other parts of the body, symptoms of tuberculosis appear  may vary. Tuberculosis in the kidney may lead to blood in urine, while tuberculosis of the spine may cause back pain.

Causes 

The tuberculosis bacteria is the culprit. It can be spread easily through droplets in the air delivered by someone infected with active tuberculosis through: coughing, sneezing, spitting, laughing, talking or singing.

Continue reading to learn about tuberculosis risk factors, complications and when to call the doctor

Risk Factors

Exposure:

  • Being exposed to someone infected with the bacteria
  • Living in the same house with someone infected
  • A person who cares for someone infected
  • Living in areas where tuberculosis is common and usually untreated
  • Living in unsanitary areas that bring about poor health

Conditions/illnesses:

  • Immunocompromised children or those with HIV or other conditions that weaken the immune system
  • Diabetes
  • Certain cancers
  • Cancer treatments
  • Malnutrition
  • Having end-stage kidney disease

Others:

  • Age: being young or very old

Those who are considered high-risk must get tested twice a year.

Complications

Tuberculosis is fatal when left untreated. Other complications are:

  • Spinal pain, stiffness, back pain
  • Liver or kidney problems
  • Damage to joints due to arthritis tuberculosis that affects the knees and hips
  • Meningitis (or inflammation of membranes surrounding the brain) that can cause headaches and even behavioral changes
  • Heart disorders such as cardiac tamponade, where the tissues around the heart become inflamed and collect water leading to a disruption of pumping properly

If your child or anyone in your household:

  • Has been exposed to tuberculosis
  • Is showing symptoms of side effects from the medication(s) used to treat tuberculosis. (See Treatments and Diagnosis)

Continue reading to learn abut how tuberculosis is diagnosed and treated

Tests and Diagnosis

As mentioned earlier, there are cases when an X-ray is unable to detect the disease.

Usually, only a tuberculin skin test, which determines whether a person is infected with the bacteria, can effectively diagnose tuberculosis. If positive for the bacteria, even in the absence of the symptoms of tuberculosis, the child must be given medication to kill the bacteria.

During the skin test, tuberculosis antigens (substance that promotes the production of antibodies) is injected under the skin. If the bacteria is present, a red bump will appear in the area that was injected within two days.

Sometimes, the results produce a false-positive (results show the presence of bacteria even if there is no infection) or a false-negative (doesn't show the presence of bacteria even if there is an infection).

Hence, blood tests can also be done to confirm initial results.

Other tests are an X-ray and sputum test (where mucus is tested for the bacteria) to detect pulmonary tuberculosis; biopsy (taking tissue samples), CT scan or MRI can be ordered to detect extrapulmonary tuberculosis.

Treatments and Drugs

It may take six to nine months to eradicate all the bacterial. Sometimes, even up to two years.

Medicines prescribed

  • Antibiotics
  • For active tuberculosis: a combination of medications
  • For latent tuberculosis: either isoniazid or rifampin (if the bacteria is resistant to isoniazid)

It's highly probable for a child to catch the bacteria from someone he lives with compared to a stranger. Also, someone infected who is being properly treated for at least two weeks won't be contagious.

Hospital treatment will be recommended to an infected infant, a child who experiences severe symptoms of tuberculosis, has tuberculosis that is resistant to multiple drugs and a child who is suffering from other diseases.

It is critical that a child finishes the treatment duration. If not, then bacteria may still thrive and cause tuberculosis to reactivate.

Side effects

Though rare, the side effects of the medication used to treat the illness are real: they can damage the liver. Call the doctor when your child experiences or has:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Yellowish tint in skin
  • Dark urine
  • Persistent fever for two to three days for no apparent reason

Continue reading to know about home remedies and preventive measures against tuberculosis

Home Remedies

The symptoms of tuberculosis can be draining. Make sure to:

  • Get enough rest
  • Eat well. If your child is experiencing a loss of appetite, one of the symptoms of tuberculosis, offer him his favorite food in small, frequent meals. It is also recommended to offer balanced meals containing protein, carbohydrates and vegetables such as menudo, sinigang and nilaga
  • Offer your child fruit shakes (mango, banana) to increase his intake
  • Ensure the room your child is in is well ventilated by opening windows to ensure air circulates
  • When the medicines start working and your child is no longer contagious (ask your doctor to verify when this will be), make him walk around the home

Prevention

  • The bacille Calmette-Guerin (BGC) vaccine is give to infants to help protect them against tuberculosis. However, it is not effective in adults
  • Keep your family away from a person with active tuberculosis

Other things you can do at home:

  • Isolate the sick child
  • Ask him to cough, laugh or sneeze into a tissue, which should be disposed of in a sealed plastic bag
  • Ask him to wear a mask, whenever possible, when a caregiver is present. Also, ask the caregiver to wear a mask around the child when he is still contagious

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