Although tuberculosis, or TB, sometimes can be thought of as an infection that mostly belongs in the past, such as polio, it is still possible for residents of Anamosa and elsewhere to contract it and even spread it, including those receiving palliative care.
TB is certainly uncommon in the U.S., especially when compared to the flu, but still can affect people with weaker immune systems, those with chronic health problems or in some cases, those who were exposed decades ago.
While not everyone at Above and Beyond Health Care and Hospice have had direct experience working with patients with tuberculosis, we all are familiar with it and similar contagious diseases. We take precautions for our staff as well as also advise local health professionals and public health officials to make sure they’re aware so the community can be informed as needed.
But regardless of any public health concerns or advisories, our focus is always on providing quality care for our clients and patients. TB, which used to be devastating and had a high mortality rate a century ago, now has more options for treatment including medication, a vaccine, or preventive therapy.
This month is a perfect opportunity for people to learn more. March 24 has been designated World TB Day. The date is the commemoration of March 24, 1882, when Dr. Robert Koch discovered the specific bacteria that causes TB. This helped identify what was killing so many people and led to research into treatment options.
The Centers for Disease Control and other health programs and agencies use this occasion to educate the public about TB worldwide including efforts to prevent it and the need for more resources to continue fighting. There are also a variety of online programs designed to improve education and recognition.
For 2020, the theme of World TB Day is “It’s Time,” and includes support and involvement from health agencies worldwide. People who have had experience with it recently or in the past are invited to share their stories online in the hopes that it will educate more people how the disease, if unchecked, can spread quickly and affect families and even entire communities.
For those whose familiarity with TB comes from Old West tragedies, general medical stories or family histories, TB was, and still can be, quite devastating.
According to the American Lung Association, TB is an infectious disease that affects the lungs and then may spread to other parts of the body. It can be spread through the air, such as an uncovered sneeze, or direct contact with someone who has it, but actual infection is difficult. Even in close quarters, it may take weeks for the infection to take place.
It was believed to be mostly eradicated by the 1970s, but then was discovered active in various communities around the world, especially areas of Africa and Asia with dense populations and poor sanitary conditions, high poverty and poor nutrition and health services.
Since then it has seen a resurgence in various parts of the world. Areas with high rates of HIV/AIDS also can contribute to the spread of TB.
One of the trickier things about TB is that if you are infected you may not realize it or notice it right away. This is also the period when you can be most infectious to others, making treatment a challenge.
Some people who may have been infected with TB will not show symptoms for years. But if their immune system has been severely weakened, it may cause the latent TB to become active.
More than 13 million Americans are believed to have latent TB, according to the CDC.
Although it was considered dangerous, even fatal, in the 19th and early 20th century, more effective treatment options are now available once it’s diagnosed.
Recognizing the risks
People with higher risks of infection include:
- Employees of or residents of locations where TB could be found and shared, such as hospitals, homeless shelters, jails, nursing homes or HIV/AIDS residential homes.
- People who have lived in parts of the world with current high cases of TB such as several countries in Africa, India or Asia.
- Someone with a riskier lifestyle that could bring them into contact with more communicable diseases, such as active needle user.
- People with weakened immune systems, which can include organ transplant recipients, those with HIV/AIDS, chronic conditions like kidney disease or diabetes; cancer patients receiving chemo; and people receiving treatment for autoimmune diseases.
- Some seniors whose immune systems are weakened. In many cases, a senior may not seek help so this age group has a higher risk of death in some parts of the world, as opposed to younger people who are more likely to seek help. Older seniors (75 and up) may have a weaker immune system to prevent contracting it, as well as lack the ability to fight it off. Seniors may be dealing with other health conditions to adding TB to whatever they’re battling.