Travelers often worry about the diseases they can contract while they are traveling. This kind of concern makes sense since some diseases are prevalent in different parts of the world.
Tuberculosis (or TB) disease is one that many international travelers worry about. Here’s what they need to know about how common tuberculosis in travelers may be. So that visitors can take their trip without having to worry about this condition.
Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria. The TB bacteria pass from one person to another in droplets that get released via sneezing and coughing. People can have the bacteria that cause TB in their bodies but not show any signs of an infection. This is referred to as latent TB.
In the latent stage, TB is not infectious. Latent TB can become active at any time. When this happens, the person can spread the infection to others. People with latent TB will not show any signs that they are sick.
If someone discovers they have the infection, they should take action. Treatment is recommended. They should also monitor themselves for any signs of active TB. This is the best thing they can do to prevent the infection from spreading any further. It keeps them from unknowingly moving into an active TB stage.
Active TB is the state of the disease where people are actively sick. Many of the most common strains of TB are antibiotic resistant. This means that they have mutated in ways that allow them to fight back against the antibiotics usually prescribed. This makes TB hard to fight.
People with active TB may need to try many different medications. They need to take them over a period of months in order to eradicate the disease successfully.
Tuberculosis is more common in undeveloped nations than it is in the developed world. However, since 1985, the prevalence of TB has gone up across the world. Experts believe that this has happened because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. That virus weakens the immune system, making it more susceptible to other illnesses, including TB.
Approximately half of the people in the world infected with TB live in just a few countries. The countries where TB is prevalent are Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, the Philippines, China, and South Africa.
However, it is believed that about 25% of the entire population of the planet has TB. Of these, only 5-15% will ever experience active TB. If travelers come in close contact with someone with active TB disease, they might get exposed to TB germs.
Most travelers may have been exposed to TB already in their home countries. However, their chances of contracting it may go up when they travel.
Travel causes more contact with a wider variety of people, some of whom may have TB. Thus, travelers should be aware of the condition and take precautions to avoid catching it themselves.
Latent TB has no symptoms because the body’s immune system is successfully keeping the disease at bay. People won’t experience symptoms unless they move into active TB.
Many people discover they have latent TB infection when they need to be tested for work, school, or other reasons. They are often shocked to find out they have it.
People with active TB may experience a wide variety of symptoms. Many of these center around the lungs since TB is best known as a lung disease. Active TB will cause significant coughing for at least 3 weeks and maybe more. The person may cough up blood and even mucus.
Others experience a significant loss of appetite and, hence, unintentional weight loss. Others are incredibly fatigued all the time, no matter how much rest they are getting. Occasionally, TB might occur outside the lungs or in other places in addition to in the lungs.
When it affects other parts of the body, it affects the spine, the brain, or the kidneys. It can cause extreme back pain, blood in the urine, and more.
Travelers should be on the lookout for these symptoms if they have ever traveled somewhere where TB is common. Those infected with TB must realize it can become active anytime. Hence, they need to keep a continuous watch.
One of the best ways to prevent TB, or at least to prevent its spread, is regular testing. People who travel to places where TB is common should undertake skin tests for TB. They should do so after 8-10 weeks of their return.
These tests involve an injection in the arm. The person needs to return to the clinic within 48-72 hours to have the test read by a professional.
After the tests are done, it will tell the person if they have contracted TB. At that point, the doctors will likely order a chest X-ray. This x-ray tells medical professionals whether the TB infection is active, even if the person does not have symptoms.
If TB is latent, travelers can monitor themselves. They should get regular x rays to make sure the bacteria has not become active. In other cases, they may need to treat their TB. For disease control and prevention, some of the treatments are discussed below for treating active TB.
There is a vaccine available for TB. It is called the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine. It is not widely used in the United States. However, it may be reserved for people at a high risk of developing the disease.
It is worth it for travelers to talk to their health care providers about the vaccine for TB and whether it is right for them. Only a medical professional can help them make the best decision for their trip.
If they don’t qualify for the vaccine or choose not to get vaccinated, travelers can still take measures to avoid TB infection.
Prevention largely involves avoiding spending long periods of time in enclosed places. Being close to infected people makes it more likely that travelers will get exposed to TB. It is most common in prisons, nursing homes, homeless shelters, care homes, and similar places.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, travelers who have increased risks of infection must undergo TB tests.
TB is usually treated with a long course of antibiotics. It can take 6 months to a year for treatment, depending on the doctor and country. The most common antibiotics prescribed for TB are rifampicin and isoniazid, though there are others.
If travelers have tuberculosis, they should be aware of potential side effects.
Most doctors recommend abstaining from alcohol entirely while on the medications because they are so hard on the liver. Regular liver testing may also be required. If TB does not respond to these antibiotics or if it responds but returns, then the person is dealing with drug-resistant TB.
MDR TB or multi-drug resistant TB can be resistant to isoniazid and rifampin.There are even stronger antibiotics that are given alongside injectable treatments to MDR TB patients. It may be administered for 30 months.
Over time, TB is entirely treatable. It may take trial and error to figure out what treatments a particular strain will respond to.
Most travelers don’t need to be particularly concerned about TB. Unless they have compromised immune systems, it is not likely to be a big problem for them.
Traveling by air is not inherently risky for TB. Because of the filters and other air purification methods used by modern airlines, it’s not something that gets spread while in the air.
Everyday interactions do not present a high risk for developing TB. Even eating in restaurants or sharing buses with exposed people does not put someone at high risk for illness. For the most part, only travelers going to difficult places for humanitarian work tend to be at risk.
Travelers who do get exposed to this bacteria are unlikely to fall ill and, if they do, can take medications to treat the illness. In the end, fears about TB should not stop anyone from taking a trip they are excited about.