Busting common myths on tuberculosis - By Dr Kusum V Moray
Updated: Mar 26, 2019
Yesterday, the 24th of March is marked as World tuberculosis day every year. On this day, in 1882, a German physician, Dr. Robert Koch, discovered that a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes the disease, we now call Tuberculosis. A hundred and thirty-seven years later, in India alone, there are about 4.2 lakh people dying of this disease every year. So, this world TB day, let us look at some common myths on this disease and bust them.
Myth 1: The symptom for TB is cough for many months
Fact: The common symptoms of TB include: Cough, cough with phlegm or blood at
times for two or more weeks, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, loss of appetite, fever and night sweat - any of these symptoms for 2 or more weeks.
But don’t panic please. Just because you have one or more of these symptoms, doesn’t mean you have TB. But ensure that you seek a doctor at the earliest if you have these symptoms.
Myth 2: In humans, tuberculosis(TB) affects only the lungs
Fact: Tuberculosis can affect literally any part of the human body, including brain, spine, joints etc. There are many forms of TB. The most common one being pulmonary (lung TB). There is also a form of TB that can result in swellings, commonly in the neck.
Myth 3: TB is not curable.
Fact: TB of all types and forms is curable. The treatment for TB involves taking oral and/or injectable medicines for 6-9 months depending on which type of TB the patient has. The government of India gives this treatment for free.
Myth 4: Tuberculosis is hereditary
Fact: No. It is not hereditary. Tuberculosis is an infection caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It spreads to a healthy person by inhaling the infected droplets from the cough of an already infected person.
Myth 5: TB patients should be isolated and not allowed to leave the house.
Fact: TB is an infectious disease, and the bacteria can spread through air, when a TB patient coughs. But if the patient uses a hand kerchief and follows cough etiquette (proper disposal of spit, not spitting in public, coughing into sleeve etc.), isolation is not required. Moreover, if the person is on regular treatment and nutritious food, the infectivity decreases drastically. The person should not feel stigmatized. The person should not share cloth and bedding with family members. Yet, care should be taken to not hurt the patient’s sentiments.
Myth 6 : Only poor people can get tb
Fact: Anyone can get tb. It is not only restricted to a particular class of society. However there are certain groups of people who are higher risk - those who have Diabetes, HIV, those who smoke/use tobacco, frail and elderly and those who are below 14 years of age.
Myth 7: Once the symptoms of TB subside, the medicines can be stopped
Fact: No! The medicine course prescribed by your doctor should be completed!! Otherwise, there is a high risk (12%!) of the medicines not working the next time the disease occurs.
This is called drug resistant TB and is more difficult to treat. The patient with TB should be encouraged with financial, nutritional and psychosocial support to ensure that the treatment is completed.
Myth 8: A blood test will tell if I have TB or not
Fact: Sputum (not saliva, sputum is what comes up when you cough. It is thick, and not watery like saliva) has to be tested to confirm TB. The sputum is either looked at under the microscope or tested in a machine to check if there is TB bacteria. In patients where TB is suspected in other parts of the body, samples like, tissue taken via a needle from a swelling, or fluid taken from the back (cerebrospinal fluid) need to be tested. A chest X-ray can help to diagnose TB, but it has to be accompanied by sputum /tissue/fluid testing.
Myth 9: DOTS is the name of the drug used to treat TB.
Fact: DOTS stands for Direct observation and treatment, short course. It is a strategy that is prescribed by the World health organization to commit to early diagnosis, cure and follow-up of patients with TB.
Myth 10 : I have taken BCG vaccination in childhood so I cannot get Tb
Fact: BCG vaccine is given mostly to protect against childhood tuberculosis. It does not guarantee complete protection from Tb in adults. You can still get Tb infection even if you have received the BCG vaccine in childhood.
Keep these myths and facts in mind, read and share them. Also, explain these facts to at least a couple of people who cannot read. Like your maid, your driver or your gardener. You never know, whom this information can help! Also, Knowledge is power!
Bonus fact: The Government of India runs a program called Revised National Tuberculosis Control Program (RNTCP). The logo of RNTCP is the orange and yellow man (image inset). This suggests a transition from the state of tuberculosis to a healthy life, which is the very promise of DOTS. “Pura course Pakka illaaj”, means that if the treatment course is completed, cure is guaranteed.
For success stories from people diagnosed with tb:
Dr. Kusum V. Moray
The writer is currently residing in Mumbai and works as a Public Health Scientist in National Institute for Research in Reproductive health, Parel. She is passionate about Public Health and her interests lie with (but are not limited to) strengthening primary health care, Non communicable diseases, health systems and translating research to policy. Her goal is to make the world more equitable and inclusive!