Increase in TB cases might  not be a rise in TB disease:HPRD

Increase in TB cases might not be a rise in TB disease:HPRD

The data collected by Tuberculosis (TB) control and prevention programme shows that there has been an increase in the number of TB cases in the year 2013-2017 but this might be due to better medical facility now being able to capture the previously undetected TB cases.

Tmong Udui, who works as an epidemiologist at the Health Policy Research and Development (HPRD) said, “Just because the numbers are increasing doesn’t necessarily mean that we have more cases.”

According to Udui, a big concern right now is surveillance of Latent TB.

Latent TB is when there are TB bacteria in the body but it isn’t symptomatic until a person’s immune system is weakened.

“In Latent TB, the bacteria are basically sleeping in a person’s body and they are not actively causing disease till the person’s immune system is weakened.” Tmong also adds that when the screening for people who don’t have active TB disease starts, the number of cases grows.

The microorganisms develop a resistance to the usual TB treatment which Udui calls, Drug resistant TB. “It limits the possibility or options for treatment because the TB bacteria has developed resistance to different types of medicines” The TB control and prevention programme tests each individual to see if one type of medicine isn’t working and whether there is a need to rework on the treatment.

Udui further refers to the data collected by TB control and prevention programme and says that 60% of TB cases between 2013-17 are Palauans while 40% come from Asian countries namely Philippines, China, Indonesia, India and Bangladesh and Pacific Islands which are FSM and Marshal Islands.

In reference to the data, Tmong also reveals that it is mostly the older people specifically between the ages of 40 and 69 who have TB. There have also been few cases of children younger than 9 years old who had TB.

Udui says that there is a person in every age group from 0 to over 70 years old with TB.

“The older age group seems to have a larger burden of disease. There are more males than females.” She said. However, Tmong Udui couldn’t confirm if there have been deaths because of TB in the country.

Once the case of TB is identified, the nurses at the Communicable Disease Unit investigate the contacts of the infected person. They then give the contacts of the infected person a medical treatment because they have been exposed. Tmong mentions that this is usually only for people who have been physically exposed to active TB patients and that there is no vaccine for TB.

TB is not a disease transferred through food or water but it travels through air when in close proximity to a person with TB. TB is also preventable and curable. There is a free TB screening and testing done at Communicable Disease Unit on every Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. The medicines for TB are free as well. (Eshan Kalyanikar)

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