What is TB?
Tuberculosis is an infection caused by a bacteria (Mycobacterium Tuberculosis). It primarily affects the lungs, but it can occur in any part of the body like intestines, kidneys and spine. Anyone can have the bacteria inside the body, but if you have a healthy immune system it’s unlikely you’ll ever develop the disease. Those with weak immune systems are the most vulnerable. That is why the poor and the malnourished, pregnant women and AIDS patients are specially prone to TB. As a matter of fact, 26% of AIDS patients die of TB.
TB can be fatal if not treated. The bacteria grow in the body and begin to destroy tissue, such as the lungs.
Only pulmonary TB (TB carried in the lungs) is infectious. TB is an airborne disease, so every time an infected person coughs or sneezes, they risk passing the disease to others, particularly those they live with or come in close contact with. On average, an active, untreated TB patient spreads the disease to 12 people.
Multiple-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis
There are three primary reasons why multiple-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) develops: 1) low-quality drugs, 2) inconsistent or improper administering of treatment, and 3) patient failure to follow treatment regimen. At that point, the bacterium mutates and becomes resistant to first line TB treatment. MDR-TB treatment 40-200 times more expensive and takes 24-30 months to cure. MDR-TB has a 80% mortality rate, i.e. of 100 patients, 80 are going to die even if they are on treatment. MDR-TB is also highly contagious, and each MDR-TB patient infects 12 more on an average before dying.
Symptoms include a persistent, dry cough that worsens over the ensuing weeks and months. The individual may expel phlegm and blood. Weight loss, night sweats, fatigue and fever are also common.
Our counselors spend most of their time in the communities where they work, and they are trained to spot these symptoms and encourage the individual to be tested for TB. Pulmonary TB is diagnosed by taking a sputum sample and identifying the TB bacterium under a microscope.
Pluerisy, a form of TB in which the linings of the lungs are filled with fluid, is diagnosed with an X-ray image. Extra-pulmonary TB requires more extensive diagnostic tools including MRI. Many of these tests are not available to the disadvantaged in developing countries, so most patients of EP TB are put on medication on the basis of clinical diagnosis.
Treatment is inexpensive and involves a combination of different antibiotics over the course of six to seven months. Tuberculosis treatment is free for our patients, and only costs OpASHA nearly $80 in recurring expenses. In India, this is supported by the Government with a grant.