Every year on March 24, the world celebrates World Tuberculosis (TB) Day and although most people believe that TB only affects the lungs, the disease can also damage other organs. The lungs, or the body’s pulmonary system, are usually the most affected by tuberculosis but it can also damage other organs, a condition known as extrapulmonary tuberculosis where additional organs can be affected including the lining of the lungs (pulmonary TB), central. The nervous system (TB meningitis), bones and joints (musculoskeletal system), lymph nodes, stomach (abdominal TB), kidneys and bladder (urogenital TB) and blood, literally every system in the body except hair and nails!
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Samir Garde, pulmonologist at Global Hospital in Parel, Mumbai, said, “Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial disease that mostly affects the lungs. Other organs such as the kidneys, spinal cord or brain may also be affected. Tuberculosis is often spread through the air, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can create an active infection even when it is not active in a person it has already been in contact with. There is a difference between being infected with the TB germ and having active TB disease.”
He revealed the stages of tuberculosis as follows:
1. Exposure. It occurs when a person is exposed to tuberculosis bacilli due to contact with droplets from another person who has pulmonary tuberculosis. A normal chest X-ray, and exposed person will show no signs or symptoms of the disease.
2. Infection with latent tuberculosis. This occurs when a person has the TB germ in their system but has no symptoms of the disease. The patient’s immune system protects the TB germs. In most infected people, TB remains dormant for life. This person will have a positive skin or blood test for tuberculosis but a chest X-ray showing only normal X-rays or spots (the immune system has fought off the bacterial attack). Other areas of the body show no evidence of current infection.
3. Clinical Tuberculosis (TB). This person will show signs and symptoms of active tuberculosis infection. A person may have a positive or negative skin or blood test for tuberculosis and a positive chest X-ray, a sputum sample that shows evidence of active tuberculosis, or other results that indicate current disease.
Talking about the possible complications of tuberculosis, the health expert said, “Pulmonary tuberculosis can cause long-term (permanent) lung damage if not treated early or properly. TB can also infect the bones, vertebrae, brain and spinal cord, lymph glands, and other body parts. It can damage such areas as a result of short-term (temporary) or long-term (permanent) effects. Uncontrolled tuberculosis can be fatal. Nevertheless, tuberculosis remains one of the greatest infectious causes of mortality worldwide.”
Suggesting what can be done to prevent tuberculosis, Dr Samir Garde suggested:
- Having a strong immune system is most important
- Should have a high protein diet (for this please consult your doctor / your nutritionist).
- Do regular physical exercise including walking/jogging, yoga, weight training etc. in open fresh air
- Control your co-morbidities like diabetes, heart disease, kidney conditions etc
- If you are on immune modulating drugs (eg: rheumatoid arthritis, chemotherapy for cancer, immunosuppressant drugs after organ transplant etc.) take regular follow up with your doctor.
- BCG vaccination in children is one of the most important measures to prevent any serious form of tuberculosis.