World TB Day 2022: Can TB spread by touching; is it genetic? Expert debunks top myths about tuberculosis

Mar 24, 2022 09:39 AM IST

World TB Day 2022: Not everyone with tuberculosis is infectious and it doesn't necessarily spread by touching. An expert busts common myths about tuberculosis.

World TB Day 2022: There is no dearth of misconceptions around tuberculosis, one of the most common infectious diseases in India. It has been around for centuries, yet people believe in many myths that are far from the truth. It is important to separate fact from fiction and spread public awareness in order to fight effectively against the deadly disease. TB is the 13th leading cause of death and the second leading infectious killer after COVID-19, according to WHO. (Also read: World Tuberculosis Day 2022: Do not ignore these common symptoms of TB)

TB is the 13th leading cause of death and the second leading infectious killer after COVID-19(Pexels)
TB is the 13th leading cause of death and the second leading infectious killer after COVID-19(Pexels)

Surprisingly, about one quarter of the world's population has a tuberculosis infection, which means people have been infected by TB bacteria but are not yet ill and cannot transmit it. According to WHO, people who have weak immune systems like those with HIV, malnutrition or diabetes, or people who use tobacco, are at risk of falling ill.

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India has the highest Tuberculosis (TB) burden in the world, and unfortunately, COVID-19 pandemic has further worsened the situation by reversing years of progress made in the fight to end TB. For the first time in over a decade, TB deaths increased in 2020. There is an urgent need to invest resources to ramp up the fight against TB and achieve the commitments to end TB in India, says Pratibha Pandey, Sr. Health Specialist, ChildFund India.

HT Digital spoke to Dr. Jayalakshmi TK Consultant, Pulmonologist Apollo Hospitals Navi Mumbai to debunk top myths about tuberculosis.

Myth 1: Everyone with Tuberculosis is infectious

Fact: Tuberculosis can affect all organs of the body except hair, teeth and nails. Only pulmonary tuberculosis is infectious and can spread through droplets. Patients who are initiated on treatment for pulmonary tuberculosis become noninfectious in 3 weeks after starting the treatment for drug sensitive tuberculosis.

Myth 2: TB is genetic.

Fact: There is research going on to see if there is genetic predisposition to tuberculosis, however there haven't been any significant reports yet. Since tuberculosis spreads through droplets, families who are in close contact get exposed and the chances of developing tuberculosis increases. There are certain places where the number of tuberculosis patients are more, in such areas the exposure to patients in substantial thereby increasing the chances of people developing tuberculosis.

Myth 3: There is no cure for tuberculosis.

Fact: There is a treatment for tuberculosis. If diagnosed on time and if the patient is compliant to treatment, patients do well with anti TB medication.

Treatment for drug sensitive tuberculosis is 6 to 9 months comprising of Rifampicin, Isoniazid, Ethambutol and Pyrazinamide. About 5% of patients can develop drug resistant tuberculosis.

Now there are shorter duration regimen (9 to 11 months) available which comprise of Bedaquiline or Delaminid. Other drugs used for treatment of MDR Tuberculosis are Levofloxacin, Clofazamine, Pyrazinamide, Ethambutol, High dose Isoniazid, Ethionamide, Moxifloxacin, Kanamycin Amikacin, Linezolid, Cycloserine. Success rate of treatment of drug resistant tuberculosis is 70 to 80% in good centers.

Myth 4: TB can spread by touching.

Fact: The TB bacteria is airborne and spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, sings, or laughs. It is not likely to be spread through personal items, such as clothing, bedding, drinking glass, eating utensils, handshake, toilet, or other items that a person with TB has touched. Very rarely cutaneous tuberculosis or skin TB can spread through touch in untreated patients.

Myth 5: TB always leads to death.

Fact: India has 30% of the world TB cases. In 2020 there were 2.64 million cases and 436000 deaths. Even though the death rate is high many deaths can be prevented by early diagnosis and treatment. India contributes to 27% of MDR TB cases. The success rate of treatment in drug resistant tuberculosis has also increased with the newer regimen. TB is the second leading cause of death from a single infectious agent ranking second to Covid 19.

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