Tuberculosis, also known as TB, is an acute or chronic bacterial infection. It is spread though inhaling tiny droplets from coughs or sneezes of an infected person. Most commonly found in the lungs, it is one of the world’s most infectious diseases. Between 2020 and 2021, the percentage of people infected increased by 7.3%. In 2021, a total of 4,425 people were notified with TB in England, corresponding to a rate of 7.8 per 100,000 population. However, England remains a low-rate country.
There are two types of tuberculosis, known as ‘latent TB’ and ‘active TB’.
- Latent TB is when you will have no symptoms. The bacteria is still in your body, but you are not infectious to others.
- Active TB is if your immune system fails to fight off the infection. It can spread within the lungs or other parts of the body. Symptoms will then develop in weeks or months.
If your immune system becomes weakened, your ‘latent TB’ could develop into ‘active TB’.
Symptoms of tuberculosis are:
- A persistent cough that lasts more than 3 weeks and usually brings up phlegm, which may be bloody
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- High temperature
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Swellings in the neck
Who is at risk of getting TB?
Almost anyone can get TB. The most at risk are people who live in, come from or have been in countries with high levels of TB. In the UK, 3 in 4 TB cases affect people born outside of the UK.
At-risk groups include those who:
- Have a condition that weakens the immune system, like diabetes & renal conditions
- Are receiving treatment that weakens the immune system
- Are very young or very old
- Suffer from drug/alcohol misuse or homelessness
In the UK, GPs offer free TB testing and treatment for people who are at risk or who might not have symptoms (known as ‘latent TB’).
TB can almost always be cured. A 6-month course of antibiotics will usually need to be taken to ensure all TB bacteria is killed. It is usually made up of a mixture of four different types of antibiotics.
Vaccination for tuberculosis
The BCG vaccine protects against TB, but it is not given as part of the routine NHS vaccination schedule.
When a child or adult is thought to have an increased risk of encountering TB, the BCG vaccine should only be given once in a lifetime. The BCG vaccine is made from a weakened strain of TB bacteria. As it is weak, it triggers the immune system to protect against the infection but, importantly, it will not give you TB.
It provides consistent protection against the most severe forms of TB, such as TB meningitis in children.
TB meningitis is relatively unusual in the UK because of the immunisation programme. Although this used to be a routine vaccination, there are changes being implemented and only specific risk groups are offered the BCG vaccination. Tuberculous meningitis occurs when tuberculosis bacteria (mycobacterium tuberculosis) invade the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It usually begins in the lungs and travels into the bloodstream to the meninges where small abscesses are formed. When they burst, TB meningitis is formed.
Benenden Hospital was created in 1905 by Charles Garland, who set up the National Association for the Establishment and Maintenance of Sanatoria made for Workers Suffering from Tuberculosis. This was after the turn of the 20th century when almost 300,000 people nationally were suffering from tuberculosis, and only 22,000 (less than 10%) a year could be treated.
If you are a member of Benenden Health, they will cover the costs of approved treatment for TB. Although Benenden Health is not “insurance”, this service is provided on an insured basis and can be requested after six months of membership.
If you are looking at a group membership for Benenden Health, please contact us and we will be able to assist you further.
The information we have provided has been sourced from the links below.