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World Tuberculosis Day: Here’s What You Need to Know

Early diagnosis will help curb the spread of the disease.

Today, we celebrate World Tuberculosis Day, with the theme ‘The Clock is Ticking.’ March 24 is a significant day, as it was the exact date in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch announced that he has discovered the bacteria causing tuberculosis, which greatly helped with diagnosing and finding a cure for it.

World Tuberculosis Day is designed to raise public awareness about the disease, which is still a global epidemic until now. As a matter of fact, in 2019 alone, 10 million individuals around the world were diagnosed with tuberculosis, 1.4 million of which succumbed to the disease. (Read: How This Woman Copes With Her Lung Disease, One Grateful Day at a Time)

But on the brighter side of things, over 63 million lives have been saved since 2000 through campaigns on ending tuberculosis. So what exactly is this disease that’s been around for over a century? Read on as My Pope Philippines gives you an explainer!

What is Tuberculosis?

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Secondary tuberculosis in lungs and close-up view of Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, 3D illustration (Photo from Dr_Microbe/iStockphoto.com/The Scientist Magazine)

Tuberculosis or TB is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which usually affects the lungs but can also affect other body parts such as the spine, brain, and kidney. It is airborne, and has two types of conditions: latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) and tuberculosis disease.

Latent Tuberculosis Infection (LTBI) is when the bacterium is present in the body but doesn’t make the host sick. It happens when a person inhales the TB bacteria but their body fights it off and prevents it from growing. (Read: 28yo Cebuano Priest Shares Healing Journey From a Rare Disease)

Those with LTBI don’t have symptoms, can’t infect anyone else, but will have a positive result for the TB blood and/or skin test. People with LTBI may develop TB disease if not treated immediately and properly.

TB Disease, on the other hand, is when the bacteria becomes active (multiplies) in the body and grows. Those with this condition are able to infect others whom they spend time with on a regular basis. They also present symptoms associated with the disease.

Tuberculosis in the Philippines

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Lt. Amy Zucharo, a pediatrician stationed aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), listens to a child’s heart at Anislag Elementary School during Pacific Partnership 2016. (Photo from Official U.S. Navy Page/Flickr)

Based on 2019 data from the World Health Organization (WHO), there are currently one million Filipinos who have active tuberculosis. This number is enough for the country to be the third-highest in the world for tuberculosis prevalence, next to South Africa and Lesotho. It is alarming as tuberculosis is a highly curable disease, but our prevalence rate is still at six digits, and continues to increase by the day. And the disease claims around 70 lives of Filipinos each day.

This is why the Department of Health (DOH) and WHO are actively campaigning for aggressive and sustainable strategies to combat tuberculosis, starting with early diagnosis. It is time to remove the stigma about patients with TB, and that being diagnosed with it is a death sentence. Again, tuberculosis is a curable disease— we just have to do our part in helping cure ourselves.

Symptoms of Tuberculosis

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KILLER DISEASE. The World Health Organization recorded some 1.6 million deaths due to tuberculosis in 2017. Of these were some 25,000 Filipinos (Photo from Rappler)

According to the American Lung Association, usual symptoms of tuberculosis include the following: (Read: How It’s Like to Be a Millennial Diagnosed With Diabetes)

  • a cough that lasts more than three weeks
  • fever
  • chills
  • night sweats
  • loss of appetite
  • unintentional weight loss.
  • coughing up blood
  • bone pain

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s best to contact your doctor or healthcare provider and schedule a check up as soon as possible. During the checkup, doctors will ask a history to see where you might have gotten the infection, and may also order a skin or blood test to determine if you have the bacteria.

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