Tuberculosis is a condition that many presume to be eradicated in most of Europe, but the truth is that infection is still possible anywhere. In fact, The Daily Telegraph reported London as the “TB capital of Europe”…which makes today even more important.
Every year on the 24th March we commemorate World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, with the mission being to raise public awareness about the devastating health, social and economic consequences of TB, and to step up efforts to end the global TB epidemic.
In our latest insightful interview, we speak with someone from London UK who has only recently gone through a frightful episode of pneumonia, a collapsed lung and surgery – all as a result of contracting Tuberculosis.
What began with pain in the centre of their chest when breathing quickly escalated into a down spiral of night sweats, a fever, worsening pain, weight loss and an alarming racing heart. Our contributor was eventually taken to A&E where they were admitted to a respiratory ward and placed on IV antibiotics… but that was only the beginning.
Continue to read our one to one interview below to discover what it’s really like to have TB in a modern day world.
(*For confidentiality purposes, our interviewee has requested to remain anonymous and therefore will not be identified by name, gender, age, ethnicity or occupation).
Firstly, thank you for contributing to M3 Global Research on this important awareness day! I wanted to start by asking you to share with our readers a summary of your experience with tuberculosis and what actually happened during your ordeal, as it was both quite unique and strenuous.
Yes, my case seemed to be quite complex and confusing, for me as well as the Doctors. It all began when I started to have some pain in the centre of my chest when I breathed in deeply. This went on for a few weeks and I didn’t think too much of it. I actually thought it may be acid reflux related, or potentially a stomach ulcer. However, I then started to feel very unwell…I went in for an emergency appointment with my GP, who sent me straight to A&E, where I had a chest X Ray and was told I had a collapsed lung and pneumonia. I was put on IV antibiotics and admitted to the respiratory ward.
In the following days, I had a chest drain to remove some of the fluid that had built up on my lung due to the infection. After a week, I was discharged on oral antibiotics. However, at this time, the doctors didn’t realise that I actually had TB – current TB tests aren’t completely accurate, and mine had showed up a false negative. It also wasn’t suspected as I didn’t have a cough – the classic symptom of TB. The doctors were baffled as they couldn’t identify the bacteria that had caused my lung infection. This meant the antibiotics I was put on weren’t TB antibiotics specifically, and so weren’t fully effective. Subsequently, a week later, with another high fever, I had to go back to A&E, where I was readmitted to the respiratory ward. I had another chest drain and was informed that, due to the extent of the fluid build-up on my lung, I may need surgery, and so was referred to a lung surgeon.
When I met the lung surgeon, they told me that I needed a VATS procedure, which is a type of thoracic surgery performed using a small video camera that is inserted into the chest via small incisions – two incisions in my case. The surgery went to plan, and was all over in about an hour. After I’d had the procedure, I was left with two chest drains coming out of where the incisions had been, and these stayed in over the next few days. I was in a great deal of pain but I had a morphine pump, and was then moved onto strong oral painkillers. After five days in hospital, I was discharged, along with a concoction of painkillers and vitamin pills to help with the healing process.
How did you react to your initial diagnosis of TB?
I was initially very shocked and confused by the diagnosis, as I’d never suspected I had TB. I hadn’t had a cough, which I thought was a given if you had active pulmonary TB, and I had never knowingly come into contact with someone else who had TB. I also felt somehow ashamed about having TB, and I was worried about judgement from others, due to the stigma that still exists around the illness.
TB is commonly thought to be unheard of in the UK, but this isn’t the case – what have you learnt about the condition that may surprise our readers?
I’ve actually learnt so much about TB from having it, and from subsequently doing a lot of my own research. I learnt that TB is still very much around, and that parts of London actually have high rates of it. I now know that you can contract TB without being aware that you’ve ever come into contact with it, and that you can have TB in a latent form for years before it becomes active, if it even becomes active at all. I’ve learnt that you can have active pulmonary TB without having any cough, that you can get TB even if you’ve had the BCG vaccine, and that current TB tests aren’t entirely accurate.
And there are two forms of TB. for someone who is unaware, what are the differences between them?
Yes, not many people are aware but there are two types of TB- active or latent. You can actually have TB in your body without it making you sick – this is latent TB infection. You feel normal and can’t spread the TB bacteria to others. However, if the TB bacteria becomes active in the body and starts multiplying, you go from having latent TB infection to being stick with active TB disease. You’ll start having symptoms and may spread the TB to other people.
In regards to your lung health for the future, what is the prognosis?
It’s quite uncertain but it’s likely I will be left with some scarring on my lung from the TB, which means some thickened tissue, and this can have a negative effect on lung function. Hopefully, however, the scarring will be minimal and won’t have any noticeable effect. I’m told that surgery can be done in order remove this thickened tissue, however, this isn’t common and only happens if the scarring is severe as it is a much more invasive procedure.
What advice would you give someone who suspect they have TB?
See a doctor immediately. When the TB becomes active, it become very serious, very quickly. Also, if you’re infectious you don’t want to risk infecting others. Even if you suspect you may have latent TB, it still needs treatment to prevent it becoming active in the future.
What is your hope for TB awareness day and how society is impacted and responds?
I really hope that it helps to raise awareness about this serious but curable disease, helps to educate people of the signs and symptoms to look out for, and to know the risk factors. I hope it demystifies some of the misconception about TB, and reduces the stigma around it.