Understanding tuberculosis

What is TB? Understanding Tuberculosis

March 24th is World Tuberculosis Day: a day dedicated to increasing people’s understanding of tuberculosis (TB) and raising awareness. TB is a serious condition that kills 4,500 people worldwide each day. While TB is rare in the UK, thanks to a crucial vaccination programme, it is still prevalent in many other parts of the world. Let’s explore the risks factors and symptoms of tuberculosis, inside and outside the UK.

TB in the UK

TB is a type of bacterial infection that mainly affects the lungs. It is spread through the tiny droplets that come from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. TB rates were high in the UK in the 1980s, leading to a successful vaccination campaign. While rates began to rise again in recent years, in 2018 they hit their lowest level in 35 years, marking a positive step towards eradicating the disease.

However, TB still exists in the UK, particularly in deprived areas. Improved diagnosis and the BCG vaccination are some of the methods being used to bring down TB rates. The World Health Organisation is also working hard to eradicate TB worldwide through campaigns such as World Tuberculosis Day.

Understanding tuberculosis symptoms

Tuberculosis has many symptoms, including:

  • A persistent cough that lasts for over three weeks which produces phlegm which can also be bloody.
  • A fever
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling in the neck area

Understanding tuberculosis symptoms can help you learn what to look out for. The BCG vaccine is offered to those under the age of 35 who are considered most at risk. TB can be treated with a six-month course of antibiotics prescribed by a doctor, but only if it’s caught in the early stages. If you develop TB, there are vital steps you should take to stop the spread of infection and protect others.

While TB is rare in the UK, there are several countries where rates are still high. If you haven’t had your BCG vaccination, you should take caution travelling to destinations like Africa (particularly the sub-Saharan and west African countries), Russia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, South America and The Philippines.  If you’re under 35, you may be eligible for the vaccine, which is less effective in older adults.

Getting help if you suspect you have TB

TB is a serious condition which can be fatal if left untreated. If you have travelled to an area that’s considered high-risk, it is best not to take any chances and get your symptoms checked out.

If you think you might have tuberculosis, you should avoid going to work and call your GP to book an appointment. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can be treated. If you need help during evenings and weekends, call 111 to be directed to your nearest out of hours service. Improve your understanding of tuberculosis this World Tuberculosis Day and help more countries become TB-free.