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Containing the TB Threat

CEBU, Philippines - Although the government efforts to quell tuberculosis (TB) in the country are really gaining noticeable progress, the lung disease is still around. It is still a rather common reality. Unhealthy conditions are certainly a cause, coupled with unhealthy lifestyles, and lack of knowledge about TB.

As with all health conditions, TB prevention is always better than a cure. Sadly, there is no sure-fire way to completely eliminate the risk of contracting TB or prevent its spread –for now at least. But there are certain measures that can help reduce the risk and the spread of the illness. The website www.tbalert.org enumerates these measures:

BCG Vaccination

The BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin) is a live vaccine against tuberculosis. The vaccine is prepared from a strain of the weakened bovine tuberculosis bacillus, Mycobacterium bovis.

It is currently the only licensed vaccine against TB, and has been in use since 1921.

The vaccine is one of the most widely used worldwide. But then again, the fact that TB is still a problem in many areas of the world is perhaps proof of the BCG’s limited effectiveness. The BCG is 80 percent effective in preventing TB for 15 years, and is more effective against complex forms of TB in children.  Its effectiveness, however, is rather less in people over the age of 35, especially when given in warm countries, which are known to have high levels of naturally occurring environmental mycobacteria.

Early Diagnosis

Early diagnosis and treatment is the most effective way to prevent the spread of tuberculosis.

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A person with infectious tuberculosis can infect 10 to 15 other people every year. But once diagnosed with TB and started on treatment, the majority of patients are no longer infectious after just two weeks of taking the medication.

Case Finding

Limiting the spread of TB depends on successfully finding and treating people with the illness, to prevent them from passing it on to others. This can be done through raising awareness of TB, so people with TB symptoms know they need to seek medical attention. In the Philippines, personnel of barangay health centers assist people with TB symptoms and refer them for testing.

When someone is diagnosed with infectious TB, their close contacts are also screened for the illness – a process known as contact tracing.

Managing the Patient’s Environment

As TB is an airborne infection, TB bacteria are released into the air when someone with infectious TB coughs or sneezes. The risk of infection can be reduced by using a few simple precautions:

Good ventilation as TB can remain suspended in the air for several hours with no ventilation;

Natural light as UV light kills off TB bacteria; and

Good hygiene like covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing; reduces the spread of TB bacteria.

In hospitals and other healthcare settings, the spread of TB is reduced through the use of protective masks, ventilation systems, keeping potentially infectious patients separate from other patients, and the regular screening of healthcare workers for TB.

A Healthy Immune System

Having a healthy immune system is yet the best form of defense against TB – 60 percent of adults with a healthy immune system can completely kill TB bacteria.

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