Thursday 13 December 2018

Q&A: What is TB and how does it spread?

Tuberculosis mainly affects the lungs – although it can reach other organs too. Stock picture
Tuberculosis mainly affects the lungs – although it can reach other organs too. Stock picture

What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that is caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis.

It mainly affects the lungs - although it can reach other organs too.

Symptoms include a persistent cough, night sweating, fever, fatigue and weight loss.

It can be latent for many years - even decades.

How do you catch it?

TB is passed through the air and can be caught from being exposed to an infected person coughing and sneezing.

It is usually caught from people who live together and affects mainly those who have low immune systems.

The most at risk are prisoners, drug addicts, refugees and migrants.

People should not worry about travelling on public transport, as the disease requires a consistent and close proximity.

Is it curable?

The disease has been treatable for a number of years.

It is very likely that patients will be cured, although it will take six months' worth of medication.

But there is also a multiple-drugs resistant strand which could mean two years of medication and up to 20 tablets a day - 14,000 in total.

What is antimicrobial resistance?

As one might expect, the term describes increasing resistance of micro-organisms to antimicrobial substances.

In real terms this means that medicines such as antibiotics become ineffective.

These resistant microbes are often called 'superbugs'.

Why is this such a big problem?

Resistant bacteria are much harder to treat and victims have far worse outcomes.

For example, people with MRSA are some 64pc more likely to die than people with a non-resistant strain of the bacterium.

Among the diseases which have growing antimicrobial resistant strains are: influenza, malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and more.

Common surgeries would also become far riskier.

This is because antibiotics reduce the risk of infection setting in.

What causes it?

Antimicrobial resistance occurs naturally over time, as micro-organisms adapt and reproduce.

However, the effect is vastly accelerated by overuse and misuse of antibiotic drugs.

This can happen, for example, when they are taken to treat a cold or used as a growth promoter in animals.

What can be done?

Resistance is a problem that can only be slowed by the appropriate and sparing use of the antimicrobial agents that we have.

Irish Independent

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