World Tuberculosis Day: It's Time to End TB

World Tuberculosis Day is observed on March 24, in memory of the day on which Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the bacterium that causes the disease. It's a disease that still affects many people in the world, especially in developing countries.
World Tuberculosis Day: It's Time to End TB

Last update: 23 May, 2021

World Tuberculosis Day is observed every March 24 around the world, as proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO). This year’s theme was: “It’s time to end TB“.

The reason behind the choice of this particular date was to commemorate the day on which Robert Koch announced to the world that he’d identified the microorganism that causes the disease. Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a bacillus-shaped bacterium. It also goes informally by the name “Koch’s bacillus”.

The discovery took place in the year 1882, and it wasn’t until one hundred years later that the observance of World Tuberculosis Day began. This event, sponsored by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, has been observed since March 24, 1982.

The disease infects about 10 million people a year in the world, of which more than 10% die. Therefore, it’s one of the 10 most frequent causes of death on the planet, and among those with HIV, it’s the number one cause of mortality.

Eight countries alone account for the largest number of new cases each year in recent years. These include India, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Nigeria, for example. Asia and Africa are the two continents that tuberculosis affects the most.

What is tuberculosis?

World Tuberculosis Day aims to raise awareness of a disease that, even though it occurs in high numbers, many are unaware of. It doesn’t have much relevance in public health agendas, and that puts it in the background.

However, as we’ve seen according to statistics, it’s a major problem for health systems. Its pulmonary complications become chronic, and its ability to complicate HIV patients is a major burden on their treatment.

Tuberculosis is defined as the pathology caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis when it enters the organism and settles in the lungs. There, it produces a reaction that forms nodules in the pulmonary tissue.

Transmission occurs by air. The bacteria travel through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and even when they spit. Those most affected are close contacts – those who spend considerable time with the sick person.

The bacillus in question can coexist with a human organism for a long time without manifesting the disease. It’s even possible to possess the bacillus for a lifetime without actually suffering from tuberculosis. But, if your defenses are weakened for some particular reason, this makes activation possible.

Although tuberculosis mainly affects pulmonary tissue, as the microorganism travels through the air, there are other tissues that also show signs. There’s bone tuberculosis, urinary tract, and digestive system tuberculosis. However, their frequency is minimal.

Bacteria in the lungs.
The pulmonary tuberculosis is the most common manifestation of the disease.

Continue reading: Renal Tuberculosis: Diagnosis and Treatment

The symptoms of tuberculosis

When pulmonary tuberculosis becomes active, symptoms begin. An infected person with active disease is also contagious if they don’t undergo some form of treatment, as we’ll see below.

First, the classic symptoms of the pathology are:

  • A cough: Persistent and productive, with some blood content – hemoptysis.
  • Chest pain: Associated with respiratory movements.
  • Weight loss: Striking and progressive, up to more than 20 pounds.
  • Night fever: One of the characteristics of elevated body temperature in these cases is its appearance at dusk and during the night.

In children, it’s different because the symptoms aren’t as evident. It’s possible to confuse the onset with other more frequent childhood illnesses, such as bacterial pneumonia or influenza.

A woman feeling her forehead and looking at a digital thermometer.
Fever appearing in the evening or at night is classic for tuberculosis.

The problem of bacterial resistance on World Tuberculosis Day

World Tuberculosis Day, in addition to raising awareness of the disease, also aims to publicize the problems with its treatment. The last decades have been concerning because of the resistance that the bacterium’s been showing.

Although the treatment of tuberculosis is traditionally carried out with accessible drugs, the bacillus has developed resistance mechanisms. These mechanisms made the modification of the therapeutic schemes necessary.

Therefore, the concept of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis appeared, defined as tuberculosis that doesn’t respond to two first-line antibiotics: Rifampicin and Isoniazid. When this situation is detected, it’s necessary to switch to the use of drugs that are more difficult to obtain and have a longer duration, even up to two years of use.

What to do on World Tuberculosis Day?

The frequency of this disease means you can be certain to cross paths with people who suffer from it. It’s one of the most prevalent diseases in the world and a major cause of death. Therefore, it needs to receive the attention it deserves.

On World Tuberculosis Day, we can start by becoming better informed about the disease and perhaps find out which associations work with those in our area who suffer from it. There are different ways to help and lend a hand.

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