Sunday March 24 is World TB Day and nurses at Scunthorpe General Hospital are raising awareness of tuberculosis (TB) in the hope of reducing fear and stigma about the infectious disease.
Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by bacteria – mycobacterium tuberculosis – that most often affects the lungs but can affect any part of the body. The disease is curable and preventable.
TB is spread from person to person through the air, when an infectious person coughs or sneezes. However the disease doesn’t spread very easily, usually only where there is close and prolonged contact with an infectious person.Andrea Gough, lead respiratory/TB clinical nurse specialist said: “TB can be treated with special antibiotics. Once treatment starts people will begin to feel better after about two to four weeks, but they have to keep taking the treatment for at least six months.
“It is vitally important for people to finish the course of antibiotics because if they don’t the disease may come back and they may be more ill and be infectious for longer. If left untreated or only partly treated, the disease can cause further tissue damage and, more importantly it can become resistant to the usual antibiotics.
“If drug resistance happens it can be extremely difficult to treat, requiring a complex drug regimen and the treatment period can be at least two years. They can also pass this more serious form of the disease onto others.”
Anyone can catch TB; however, some groups of people are more at risk than others. These include:
• People with a weakened immune system
• People living in poor quality housing
• People with alcohol and substance misuse
• People who have spent time in a country with high TB rates such as many countries in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.
The symptoms of pulmonary TB include: a cough, coughing up blood, night sweats and weight loss.
Andrea said: “The above symptoms could be signs of other problems so it is important you talk to your GP or nurse if you are worried or experience these symptoms for more than three weeks. Anyone coughing up blood however, should seek health advice sooner.”
She said one of the most effective ways to prevent the disease is to detect it in ‘latent form’. A latent TB infection occurs when an individual is carrying the TB bacteria but doesn’t have any symptoms, so is not infectious to others.
The bacteria can however go on to cause disease in the future – this is why screening is offered to anyone who is known to have been in close contact with a confirmed case of TB, and to those arriving from countries with high rates of the disease as a precaution.
Andrea added: “It’s crucial that people take up the screening appointments when offered. There is a general downward trend in TB incidence, however there is no room for complacency and we must remain vigilant to the signs of TB and act quickly if we are going to prevent and control this disease in the future.”
Marj Carling, children’s TB clinical nurse specialist, said: “Babies are offered the BCG vaccine shortly after birth on the delivery suite which can help protect them against TB. If they don’t receive the vaccine at birth, they will be recalled so it is important that parents take up this offer.
“For those children who need screening for the disease this is carried out by a specialist children’s nurse in the paediatric outpatients department.”