What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious and potentially fatal disease that predominantly affects the lungs. While only 10% of people exposed to TB actually advance to the stage of active tuberculosis, the increasing prevalence of HIV and AIDS in recent years has resulted in increased numbers of TB cases. With more people contracting active TB, more people are exposed to the infection.
Like the common cold, TB is transmitted easily through the air when an infected person coughs and sneezes, as well as through the exchange of saliva. The bacterium that causes TB is only spread through people with the active disease in their lungs. However, a healthy person can become infected by inhaling only a small amount of this bacterium.
Once infected with the bacteria, this does not necessarily mean that TB will develop. TB symptoms may closely follow initial infection, but the immune system is particularly effective in stopping TB bacteria from affecting the body, and it can thus remain dormant in the lungs without causing illness. This latent tuberculosis bacterium can nevertheless become active (even decades after exposure) if the immune system is weakened, and people with immune deficiency are thus very vulnerable to this disease.
TB is a serious disease that is responsible for approximately 1.6 million deaths a year worldwide, the majority of which occur in the region of Africa. However, TB is treatable and to a large extent, preventable.Since tuberculosis symptoms so closely resemble symptoms from other illnesses, it is advisable to receive a proper diagnosis from a medical professional.
TB tests are also recommended for people who are HIV positive, those who have come into close contact with someone who has active contagious TB, as well as those people who are occupationally at risk of contracting or spreading the disease, such as health care workers, prison personnel, and people working with the elderly. When TB symptoms are thought to be experienced, obtaining an official diagnosis via a screening is recommended.
Tests for Tuberculosis
Screening for TB may include a number of tests. Firstly, your doctor will ask you for a brief medical history and a detailed description of your symptoms. A TB skin test can be performed in which a small amount of tuberculosis-purified protein derivative (PDD) is injected under the skin of the forearm.
If there is a reaction (a raised bump at the site of the injection) within 48 to 72 hours after the test, it is likely you have been exposed to the TB bacteria and it is in your system. This test is not always accurate and a positive result does not necessarily mean that you have active tuberculosis.
Further tests such as a blood test, a sputum culture test (where the phlegm is examined in a laboratory for signs of the bacteria), and a chest x-ray will confirm whether or not TB is present and considered active or latent tuberculosis.
What are Tuberculosis Symptoms ?
Of the small percentage of people who go on to develop active tuberculosis, approximately 75% will develop pulmonary TB, which is restricted to the lungs and easily transmitted to others. The remaining 25% of TB cases affect other areas of the body including the kidneys, bones, brain, and skin. If the symptoms mentioned below sound familiar, it is advisable to seek medical attention and obtain a proper diagnosis to differentiate between TB symptoms versus those caused by other illnesses.
The most prominent symptom, and sometimes the only initial indicator of pulmonary TB, is a persistent and productive (phlegm-producing) cough that lasts for longer than three weeks. Other common symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Night sweats
- Loss of appetite
- Anorexia or noticeable weight loss
- Paled complexion
- Pain when breathing or coughing
What Causes Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis which are released into the air in microscopic droplets when someone with active and untreated TB sneezes, coughs, yawns, or speaks. There is a much higher chance of contracting TB when in close contact with a carrier than from a stranger in passing.
Factors such as poor nutrition, limited access to proper health care, misuse of TB medication, crowded living conditions, poor hygiene habits, and new strains of drug-resistant TB all contribute to higher TB incident rates.
Help for Tuberculosis
Treatment for tuberculosis is usually a combination of antibiotic medications. Depending on your diagnosis and whether you have active or latent tuberculosis, your doctor may prescribe a combination of the following medications:
- Rifampicin (one brand name: Rifadin)
- Ethambutol (brand name: Myambutol)
It is important to note that TB is a serious medical condition and is not suited to home treatment. It is important to follow all of your health care advisor’s instructions and directions carefully, and take the medication regularly until the course is finished (usually between 6 and 12 months). While side effects of these drugs are not very common, they can be serious when they do occur, and you should always call your doctor if you begin to feel unwell while on treatment.
Natural Herbal and Homeopathic Remedies
Whether conventional medical treatment is chosen or whether the patient is treated by means of natural medicine, treatment should always be supervised and carried out by a trained health professional experienced in the treatment of this illness.
One of the most important preventative measures to guard against contracting TB is to boost the immune system. It is essential to support the body’s natural defense mechanisms if you have already become ill, especially after or during a lengthy period of antibiotics (as would be prescribed to treat TB).
Natural Remedies to Boost the Immune System
Various herbal and homeopathic remedies can provide great benefit for tuberculosis symptoms if used alongside conventional medication to strengthen the body’s natural immune response. Herbs such as Echinacea purpurea, Astragalus membranaceous, Inula helenium and Withania somnifera are well-documented for their antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties, as well as their excellent ability to strengthen and assist the immune system to promote faster recovery.
While a controversial topic, excessive use of conventional TB drugs have been blamed for the multi-drug resistant (MDR and XMDR) strains of TB that are increasingly prevalent. In the search for alternatives less likely to increase the TB pandemic, it is important that medical authorities explore the potential of herbal and homeopathic remedies.