Tuberculosis kills over 4 lakh Indians a year: Hard learned lessons can assist in the fight against COVID-19

It is because underlying conditions like TB are endemic in the country that experts are especially concerned about an outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Myupchar March 31, 2020 16:33:39 IST
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Tuberculosis kills over 4 lakh Indians a year: Hard learned lessons can assist in the fight against COVID-19

COVID-19 has cut through our lives and exposed the frailties of our bodies and the shortcomings of our healthcare infrastructure. While the global burden of this disease is high — over three-quarters of a million are now infected and over 38,000 people have died — there are many other diseases that have posed a threat to our country since its birth. 

Tuberculosis kills over 4 lakh Indians a year Hard learned lessons can assist in the fight against COVID19

Representative image. AP

Tuberculosis (TB) reigns supreme amongst infectious diseases that continue to hold the world — especially the poorer parts — hostage. The World Health Organization (WHO) released a tuberculosis report on the 24th of March; in 2018 over 10 million people were sickened by TB and 1.5 million of those died. Eight countries contribute to two-thirds of this total with India leading in terms of morbidity; estimates from 2016 suggest that India reported 28 lakh cases and over 4 lakh deaths. These are almost unbelievable numbers but make up the daily reality of our country.

What are the symptoms of TB and how does it spread?

TB is caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis and affects the lungs. It is an airborne disease; it is transmitted when an infected person sneezes in the vicinity of others. It is believed that a quarter of the world has latent TB which means that they carry the pathogen without presenting symptoms and cannot transmit the disease.

Symptoms include a persistent cough which can be bloody, night sweats, weight loss, fever, and overall fatigue. 

It is because underlying conditions like TB are endemic in the country that experts are especially concerned about an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Vulnerable populations, including people who have or have had TB in the past, are more likely to suffer severe forms of COVID-19.

What can the country learn from its TB response?

TB can fester amongst communities and families without them realizing that they are harbouring and transmitting a deadly disease. Since initial symptoms are fever and fatigue, many do not suspect that they have TB. Similarly, with COVID-19, the vast majority of cases present only mild symptoms, which makes it hard to isolate and contain the spread of the pathogen. 

India has developed a vast army of healthcare workers under the National Tuberculosis Elimination Plan (NTEP) who scour the country to look for those who may be TB positive. Finding these cases, isolating them, mapping their close contacts and providing treatment has blunted the impact of the disease on the population. 

Since contact tracing and proactively isolating those who are COVID-19 positive is a national priority, health officials can take inspiration from those who are on the frontline of the fight against TB.

Avoid self-prescription and fake cures 

Drug-resistant or MDR TB is a major global health crisis. According to the WHO, 484,000 people in 2018 showed resistance to the premier TB drug combination. Studies based in India have shown that antibiotic resistance has flourished due to indiscriminate use of antibiotics and faulty prescriptions by fraudulent doctors.

Similarly for COVID-19, a lot of misinformation, especially about miracle cures, has become widespread. Hundreds of people have tragically died in Iran after ingesting methanol, following rumours that claimed it was a cure. At best, fraudulent ‘cures’ are a waste of money and harmless, but they could also increase complications and disease severity in the case of COVID-19. Therefore, the Health Ministry has urged citizens to follow only government guidelines and sound medical advice. 

For more information, read our article on Steps to keep COVID-19 at bay.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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