Dana Ramirez

Dana Ramirez

Did you know that tuberculosis is still existent in the United States and can be found in the Crossroads area? Don’t be alarmed; TB is treatable.

Unlike the common cold, TB is not as easily transmitted. TB is an airborne disease that is spread from person to person. Bacteria is released into the air, then breathed in by another person; then, the bacteria settles in the lungs and begins to grow. The bacteria is freed by coughing, sneezing, laughing or singing. You cannot acquire TB by shaking hands, eating or drinking after someone, sitting on toilet seats or bed linens, kissing or sexual intercourse. A person with TB usually passes it to those they spend most of their time with, like family members, close friends, co-workers and schoolmates.

According to the Center for Disease Control website, there were 9,107 TB cases in the United States in 2017. Texas, New York, Florida and California combined account for almost half of the total cases in the U.S. The CDC, the Department of State Health Services, local health departments and many other agencies work together in many ways to stop the spread of TB. The number of cases reported continues to decline. Our goal is to continue to see these numbers drop and eliminate TB.

Immunocompromised individuals, such as those infected with HIV, are highly susceptible to getting TB due to the difficulty of fighting infection. TB is one of the leading causes of death of those infected with HIV. There are many other comorbidities with this disease, such as cancer, COPD, diabetes mellitus, malnutrition, severe kidney disease, alcoholism and smoking. Others at high risk include those who are foreign-born, children under 5 years old, those in correctional facilities, travelers to foreign countries, those in health care facilities and the homeless.

There are many parts of the body that TB can attack, such as the brain, kidneys, throat, eyes and spine. TB is most commonly found in the lungs, where it is more likely to be contagious. There are two conditions of tuberculosis: tuberculosis disease (TB) and latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI).

A person with latent TB has been exposed to someone with TB disease at some point in their life, has no signs and symptoms of TB and is not contagious. The disease is considered inactive. An infected person’s immune system was able to fight the bacteria and keep it from multiplying. Some patients with LTBI may never develop the disease, while others may develop it later on in life. Treatment is recommended but not required for patients with latent TB. Persons with LTBI can discuss the condition with their PCP to determine if treatment is necessary. Treatment usually consists of oral medication for a minimum of three months.

A person with TB disease will have signs and symptoms and may be contagious. The disease is considered to be active. TB disease cannot be confirmed by one solitary test or its contagious status. It’s based on physical evaluation, medical history and current signs and symptoms in addition to tests that may include radiology exams, laboratory tests and bacteriology studies. Those with TB disease are required to be treated with a strict medication regimen for a minimum of six months. It’s imperative that patients with active TB complete their treatment. If left untreated, this airborne disease can cause life-threatening complications such as permanent lung damage and decrease the patient’s quality of life.

TB signs and symptoms are as follows:

  • Bad cough lasting three weeks or longer
  • Night sweats
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain

It is important to get tested for TB if you are at risk and/or have signs and symptoms of TB. The first step to rule out TB is a tuberculosis skin test, also called a purified protein derivative skin test. These are recommended yearly to those who are at risk. TST can be done by a physician’s office or your local health department.

Be sure to exercise regularly, maintain a healthy diet, keep your regular checkups, stay up to date on your immunizations and call your doctor if you have a new onset of signs and symptoms. These are just a few important reminders to help prevent, promote and protect good health.

Remember, TB is treatable.

Dana Ramirez, LVN, is the Public Health TB Nurse with the Victoria County Public Health Department.

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