Tuberculosis is a bacterial disease that is often misunderstood in society, since tuberculosis is not a disease you hear about everyday. When you hear the word tuberculosis, it is easy to brush it off as a disease of the past, but in reality, tuberculosis is still one of the deadliest diseases in the world. TB Day is March 24, and this is a day where spreading awareness of the impacts of this disease is priority number one across the world. As someone who has a background in the medical field, I was surprised at some of the myths and lesser-known facts I was able to find about tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis does not occur in the lungs only
I worked in a hospital for a few years, and through this experience, had to deal with going into hospital rooms where a patient had tuberculosis. I remember reading the signs on the door that reminded everyone to wear a mask because of the airborne infectious disease. One thing I was amazed to learn though, was that tuberculosis can occur in other parts of the body. I assumed that because it was airborne only the lungs were filled with the bacteria. The brain, kidneys, and spine can all become infected with tuberculosis, although it is true that most cases of the disease is found in the lungs. What I found weird about that as well is that treatment of tuberculosis, no matter where it is located, is very similar to the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis.
There is more than one strand of tuberculosis
Having a medical background has prepared me for a lot of things, but learning that there is more than one strand of the disease is pretty terrifying and not really talked about. I thought that there was one type of tuberculosis out there, and that once you had it, then it was done. Actually, even if you have tuberculosis, latent or active, you can get another strand of the disease, which might be located in another part of your body as well. In school, you hear about tuberculosis, but you don’t hear about there being more than one type of the disease, and you don’t hear about people getting more than one type. It may be very rare to have more than one form of tuberculosis, but it does happen.
HIV significantly increases your risk
You hear about HIV and AIDS all the time, even when you are young, but hearing tuberculosis in connection with the disease is not common. One of the most fascinating things I learned about tuberculosis was that if you do have HIV, then your risk for developing active tuberculosis is over 30 times that of someone without HIV. People who have HIV are actually at a higher risk of dying from the tuberculosis itself, rather than dying from complications of HIV. HIV is a known disease that weakens the immune system, so combining that with tuberculosis, often makes for a death spiral within the body. I am assuming that tuberculosis is not talked about that much has to do with this fact, that a considerable amount of cases are connected to people who have HIV.
Men are more likely to get tuberculosis
One lesser-known fact I stumbled across was that more men are diagnosed with tuberculosis, and are more likely to die from it than women. This was a very interesting fact because it means that men are more likely to get active tuberculosis within their lifetime than women. A lot of women do have the disease, especially in the reproductive years, but it seems to progress more slowly than in the male counterpart.
Tobacco can increase risk of tuberculosis
Tobacco has long been thought to be a contributing risk factor associated with tuberculosis, but new data is suggesting that link is more definitive. As a former smoker myself, I find this to be the most troubling lesser-known fact about the disease. While there was always a question about this link, the fact that more and more people that have smoked or do smoke become infected with tuberculosis is alarming, considering that the outcomes are often fatal in this group. I believe the link is that smoking lowers the immune system, thus if someone has latent tuberculosis, it is more likely to become active because the body cannot fight it off. What is really odd though, is that this group is likely to not respond to medications, which leads to periods of falling very ill before death occurs. With all the ads out there about smoking and the nasty diseases you can get, this is the first time I have heard that tuberculosis is actually one of them.