World Tuberculosis Day is celebrated on 24 March and is a chance to learn more about this illness.
While tuberculosis (TB) is rare in Australia, it’s still important to know more about this highly infectious disease, especially if you travel to areas of the world where rates are higher.
So let’s take this opportunity to learn more about TB in time for World Tuberculosis Day.
What’s World Tuberculosis Day 2023 about?
World Tuberculosis Day aims to remind people that TB is an epidemic in many places around the globe.
The World Health Organization says that every year, 10 million people get the disease, and 1.5 million people die from it. This makes it the most deadly infection in the world.
The day falls on 24 March because this was the date in 1882 when Dr Robert Koch announced that he had identified the cause of TB to be a bacterium. It was at a time when people believed it to be an inherited disease.
Leading up to World Tuberculosis Day, the public is encouraged to learn more about this disease and how it mainly affects people in developing countries, although it can be found all over the world.
You can do this by:
- Holding a workplace event to raise awareness of TB
- Raising money to help TB charities
- Understanding how it might affect you if you travel to countries where TB levels are high
- Using the WHO campaign materials to communicate key messages about TB, including the hashtag #EndTB
What is TB?
Tuberculosis (TB) is a highly infectious disease that primarily affects the lungs and is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
There are two types of TB — active and inactive (or latent) TB disease.
With inactive TB, someone can be infected with the bacteria, but they do not become ill because their body fights the infection. Inactive TB is not infectious.
Active TB is when the bacteria multiply, and the affected person cannot fight the infection. Active TB is infectious and causes symptoms. These include:
- A cough that lasts three weeks or longer
- Weight loss
- A high temperature
- Sweating in bed at night
- Coughing up blood in mucus
- Chest pain
- Swollen lymph glands
- Loss of appetite
The disease spreads in the air when someone with active TB coughs, sneezes, or speaks, releasing bacteria. People nearby may then breathe them in and become infected themselves.
Who does it affect?
You are more likely to be affected by TB if you live in or visit a developing country. TB is most common in the following countries:
- South Africa
- The Philippines
You are also more likely to get TB if you have a condition that affects your immune system, such as HIV or diabetes.
How is it treated?
If you are diagnosed with inactive TB, you may be prescribed medication to reduce your chances of developing active TB.
People with active TB are given antibiotics which they must take over six months. They may need hospital treatment.
Can it be prevented?
There is a vaccine for TB called the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine.
It doesn’t stop you from being infected with TB, but it can help prevent serious cases of TB, particularly in young children.
The BCG vaccine is not part of the childhood immunisation program in Australia, as TB rates here are very low.
However, it may be suitable for certain groups of people:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants in certain parts of Australia
- Children travelling to countries where TB is common
- Babies with parents or carers who have TB
TB advice for travellers
If you’re travelling to a country where TB is common, here’s what you can do to protect yourself:
- Avoid close contact with people known to have TB.
- Avoid spending time in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.
- If this is unavoidable, for example, if you are working in healthcare, get advice from your doctor at least four to six months before you travel.
- You may be offered the BCG vaccine. This will involve getting a skin test before vaccination.
- The vaccine is usually recommended for children under five years who may travel to a high-risk country for three months or more. Ask your doctor for details.
- You may also be advised to wear face masks while at your destination.
- You may be recommended to have a TB test on your return to Australia.
- You should look out for signs of TB during your trip and when you get back.
Helping you to keep safe while you travel
Most Australians don’t have to worry about getting TB themselves. But in the run-up to World Tuberculosis Day, it’s good to be aware of how this disease affects people in other countries.
You should also know about precautions you may need to take if you’re travelling to a country where TB is common — speak to your doctor before your trip.
And wherever you travel, it’s always sensible to take steps to avoid getting any infection.
Being prepared takes the worry out of travelling, leaving you free to make the most of your experience!