24th March is observed as World Tuberculosis Day every year. The theme for this year is “It’s time” which aims on accelerating the TB response to save lives and end suffering.
Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the key causes of morbidity and mortality in many countries around the world including India. According to the World Health organization (WHO)’s 2017 Global TB Report, around 2.8 million people in India suffered from tuberculosis (TB) in 2016. What is more surprising is the fact that this number accounts for around a quarter of the world’s TB burden. It is also reported that nearly 435,000 people died in 2016 due to TB. In March 2017 the Government of India (GoI) announced that the new aim with regard to TB in India was the elimination of TB by 2025.
Tuberculosis is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB is curable and preventable. Knowing the prevailing myths and facts can help save your life and can also help end the stigma that people living with TB face.
Busting Common Myths About Tuberculosis
Some of the common myths pertaining to TB and its occurrence, transmission, and diagnosis have been busted here.
Myth 1: TB is a genetic disease.
Fact: One of the most common misconceptions about TB is that it can be transmitted genetically. However, in reality, there is no specific gene that can cause TB so it cannot be passed from parents to children through genes.
Infact, TB is a bacterial disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is an airborne disease which means the bacteria can spread from one person to another through air droplets. So when a person with active TB coughs, laughs or sneezes, tiny droplets are breathed out into the air. These droplets when inhaled by a healthy person can cause TB.
Myth 2: TB occurs only in the lower socio-economic class of the society.
Fact: A TB bacterium doesn’t discriminate between castes, culture or economic status. Any person who comes in contact with an infected person can develop the disease. However, people with malnutrition and those with low immunity are at a greater risk of getting infected as compared to a healthy person as the ability to fight the infection is slightly less in malnourished and immuno-compromised people.
Myth 3: No symptoms ensure the absence of infection.
Fact: A person may be infected with TB bacteria for years but still may not show any symptoms. This is known as the latent phase. And the person with latent TB infection cannot spread the infection to others as the bacteria is not infectious and under control of the immune system. However, it is equally dangerous for the patients and people around them as the underlying infection may turn into an active TB infection anytime. So it is wise to watch out for symptoms and get immediate medical help to prevent severe infection.
Myth 4: TB can only be caused due to excessive smoking.
Fact: Firstly, TB is caused only through infection by Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria. Secondly, smoking is one of the known risk factors of tuberculosis, which means that it does aggravate the condition and hinder with the treatment. So it is advised to quit smoking as any harm to the lungs can indirectly put you at risk of an infection and impact your ability to fight the infection.
Myth 5: TB affects lungs only.
Fact: Although TB of the lung is the most commonly seen form of tuberculosis, the bacteria can affect different parts of the body as well. The bacterium is equally potent to affect the kidneys, lymph nodes, brain, spinal cord, intestines or the covering of the heart of a patient. Moreover, it can also affect the genital tract in both men and women and is known as genital tuberculosis.
Myth 6: BCG immunization can prevent TB infection for the lifetime.
Fact: BCG, or bacille Calmette-Guerin, is a vaccine for tuberculosis (TB) disease. It forms an integral part of child immunization programmes (especially in countries with a high prevalence of TB including India) to prevent childhood tuberculous meningitis and miliary disease. However, with age the efficacy of the vaccine tends to decrease. So it is not wrong to say that BCG provides only short-term protection from the disease.
Myth 7: TB cannot be cured.
Fact: As TB is a bacterial disease, it can be cured for lifetime if a proper treatment plan is followed. Undergoing the complete medication course as advised by your doctor for TB is the key to get cured from TB for the lifetime.
Myth 8: TB once treated can not reoccur.
Fact: TB is one such condition which needs timely treatment and management to fight the infection. However, if the course of the medication is not completed or if the patient fails to take the medication as recommended, the chance of relapse of the disease increases. And this can further worsen your condition as the bacteria becomes resistant to the drugs leading to drug-resistant TB, which is more deadly to treat.
Myth 9: Patients with only active TB need medication.
Fact: Any person carrying the Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection without having any symptom is equally potent, and must be treated with the same rigor. So talk to your doctor about the course of the medication and queries, if any, to get treated.
Myth 10: Only a TB patient can spread the disease.
Fact: Many animal species, especially cattle and cat family, are known to be the carrier of the disease. So it may not be wrong to say that the risk of getting TB from other mammals is also high.
Myth 11: Blood in spit always means TB infection.
Fact: Blood in spit may occur due to various health problems which may range from gum disease to cancer. So, it is important to get it checked with a lab test Proper sample examination and analysis is the only way to confirm any occurrence of the infection.
Myth 12: A TB patient cannot be touched.
Fact: A close and prolonged contact with a TB patient can lead to the bacterial entry in the respiratory tract of the other person. Otherwise, it is safe to hug, kiss or touch a person suffering from TB.
Note: The fight against TB is not a difficult one. But staying alert and informed is half the battle won. So stay informed and be healthy.
1. Dias HMY, Pai M, Raviglione MC. Ending tuberculosis in India: A political challenge & an opportunity. Indian J Med Res. 2018 Mar;147(3):217-220. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6022383/
2. Key facts. Tuberculosis. World Health Organization (WHO). https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tuberculosis