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Tuberculosis: You can share cups without sharing cough

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  • Tuberculosis can only be transferred through inhalation and not through the use of physical objects used by TB patients

To start with, it is good to acquaint ourselves with what is known as tuberculosis. Tuberculosis often abbreviated as TB is a very serious disease that when not treated or poorly treated can kill. But the good news is that there is a combination of drugs that when taken as prescribed can easily cure it. TB mainly affects the lungs but there is no part of the body starting from the lungs that TB cannot affect.

The lung becomes the most commonly affected organ because the germ causing TB is spread through the air when someone with TB disease coughs, laughs, sneezes, sings, and even talks, etc. Other people that breathe in the air containing the TB germs may then also get infected with TB.

TB infection most times will not result in TB disease because TB infection means that the person only has dormant (sleeping) TB germs and will not necessarily get sick with TB disease. In effect, people with TB infection unlike those with TB disease cannot pass the germs to others. But it is possible that these dormant TB germs may wake up from their “sleep” and start to actively multiply, in which case, will result in the development of TB disease.

The progression of infection into TB disease is often as the result of the sudden weakening of the immune system of the person with TBinfectionmostly as a consequence of being infected with HIV infection and some other health problems like diabetes etc., which weakens the body’s ability to fight off infections. Also, the possibility of TB progression is higher if the TB infection occurred less than two years before this progression.

Other predisposing factors include when the person with latent TB infection also abuses alcohol and/or uses illegal drugs or when there is a past history of incorrectly treated TB infection. Naturally, babies and young children, because of their poorly developed immunity, are more prone to developing TB disease after TB infection, and so also are elderly people because of the weakening of their immunity due to old age.

TB is, however, usually not spread from a pregnant mother to her baby because it cannot cross the placenta. A rare exception is miliary TB when the TB germ breaks through the placenta to infect the fetus. Nevertheless, babies may be infected during birth, if instruments used in birth delivery are infected, for example when the infected mask is used on a baby that needs a mask to help her breathe and this mask, unfortunately, contain TB germ.

However, there are a lot of misconceptions about how TB is spread. More prominently is the belief that TB can be spread when drinking containers or eating utensils are shared between people with TB disease and those without the infection. Some also believe that by sharing cigarettes or exchanging saliva, during kissing, with someone having TB disease will make them also develop TB disease. But the fact is that the TB germ often does not cause TB when they are swallowed. But breathing the air exhaled by someone with TB disease, for example when kissing, can make a previously uninfected person to have TB infection and possibly TB disease.

Others also believe that TB is spread through shaking of hands, sharing food, touching bed linens or toilet seats, or sharing toothbrushes. As explained above TB is spread through the inhalation of TB germs present in the air and not through these misconceived routes.

TB infection can also come from drinking unpasteurised milk or unpasteurized dairy products of infected cattle or from eating the meat of a cattle infected with bovine TB, which is the TB found in cattle. TB of some animals like cows is known to have the capacity of infecting man as well, though that is becoming very rare nowadays because milk and dairy products are pasteurized before being sold and consumed.

Also, health inspectors often inspect the carcasses of cattle at slaughterhouses for bovine TB before such meat is allowed to be sold. In cases where TB is found, such affected meat would be discarded and not allowed to be consumed by humans.

From the foregoing, it shows that the surest way of preventing the spread of tuberculosis is for people with TB disease to always cover their mouth and nose when coughing, sneezing, etc. with disposable tissues {not handkerchiefs or any such item that is not of a single use). If possible, they should always adorn clean, non-soiled facemasks at all times. They should also use all their medications as instructed by the health care providers.

And rather than separating the plates, spoons, cups etc. of people having TB disease, in fact, these items can be shared with them.

Also, rather than treating TB patients with contempt and disdain, as seen in many TB treatment centers, they should rather be treated like other patients. They can’t spread TB to us by us being their friends and them being shown love and affection.

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