Coronavirus slows progress in the care and diagnosis of Tuberculosis
Each year the Institute for Respiratory Health commemorates World Tuberculosis (TB) Day on 24 March to raise public awareness of the devastating health, social and economic consequences of this significant bacterial infection.
This event marks that day in 1882 when the Nobel Laureate, Dr Robert Koch, announced that he had discovered the bacterium that causes this disease. This discovery illuminated the path towards diagnosing and treating the condition.
“Many people think that TB is a disease existing only in low-income countries,” said Emeritus Professor Geoff Stewart, Director of the Institute for Respiratory Health. “But it still occurs in high-income countries such as Australia, although at a much lower rate of infection.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic started, the number of people diagnosed was, unexpectedly, 20 per cent lower than the number diagnosed in 2019 but the number of patients dying from TB increased.
“Both factors are thought to reflect reduced access to healthcare as authorities dealt with the pandemic through the use of extensive lockdowns in countries where these deaths occurred.
“In addition,” Professor Stewart said, “the pandemic has adversely affected the treatment of patients with drug-resistant TB as well as those accessing preventative TB drug treatment.
“Hopefully, once the pandemic diminishes, we will see a return to normal health services for those patients with TB, a reduction in the death rate and the diagnosis of infected people more readily.
“Usually, TB is difficult to catch and you would need to spend several hours in close contact with someone before becoming infected.
“People most at risk of developing TB, generally have an immune system that isn’t working well such as through malnutrition, excessive alcohol and drug use, smoking, or if they are infected with the HIV virus.”
TB is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs, though it can affect any organ in the body. It is usually transmitted through inhaling TB laden droplets in the air. It can be fatal, but in many cases, it is preventable and treatable.
The most common symptoms of TB are a persistent cough for more than three weeks, unexplained weight loss, fever and night sweats. If you have any of these symptoms and without any of the risk factors mentioned above, it is unlikely you have the disease but you should book an appointment with your doctor.