As the world came together to tackle COVID19, a global public health emergency, a big lesson learnt in the past year is that it is important to ensure the running of essential services and operations for dealing with long-standing health problems and continue to safeguard people with existing health conditions. Health services, including national programs to combat Tuberculosis (TB), needed to be actively engaged to ensure an effective and rapid response to COVID19 while ensuring that TB services continued seamlessly. And in many ways, these have been maintained to a certain extent. The state of Maharashtra recorded an all-time low in the number of TB-COVID19 co-infection rates.Also Read - Budget Could Consider Levying TDS/TCS On Crypto Trading, Make It Reportable in SFT

The infection rate has remained under 1 per cent. The state health department’s latest report said 709 of 1.36 lakh patients with underlying TB — subjected to compulsory COVID19 screening between January-September — tested positive for the virus pegging the state’s TB-Covid co-infection rate at 0.5 per cent. Also Read - Only 29% People Get Full Cancellation Refund from Airlines During Covid Third Wave, Reveals Survey

Having said that, the fight isn’t over yet. Even if there is a dip in cases, the chances of rise in co-infection exist. Finding and treating people with TB remains the fundamental pillar of TB prevention & care, and those would require sustained efforts. The COVID19 pandemic has provoked social stigma and discriminatory behaviours against many people, as well as anyone perceived to have been in contact with the virus. Stigma can undermine social cohesion and prompt social isolation of groups, which might contribute to a situation where the virus and TB are more likely to spread. This can drive people to hide the illness to avoid discrimination, prevent people from seeking healthcare, and discourage them from adopting healthy behaviours. Also Read - No Justification For Keeping Schools Closed Due to COVID Now: World Bank Education Director | Full Interview Here

Moreover, stigma and fear around communicable diseases like TB hamper the public health response. Also, people already suffering from TB need to be monitored and assessed from time to time to ensure they do not develop drug-resistant TB – one that is difficult to tackle, or results in non-compliance to treatment. Therefore, building trust in reliable health services & advice, showing empathy towards the affected, understanding the disease itself, and adopting effective, practical measures so people can help keep themselves and their loved ones safe, should be prioritized.

Dr Anita Mathew, Infectious Disease Specialist, Fortis Hospital Mulund share things that you can do to stay protected from TB-COVID19 co-infection:

  • Have nutritious food and build immunity
  • Always wear a mask when venturing outdoors
  • Indulge in regular exercise
  • Take regular prescribed medication and continue follow-ups
  • Get screened if you experience a prolonged cough or any other cold-like symptoms
  • Take care of your co-morbidities, keep your parameters in check

In addition, TB patients should take precautions as advised by health authorities to stay protected from COVID19 and continue their prescribed TB treatment. People ill with COVID19 and TB show similar symptoms such as cough, fever, and difficulty in breathing. Both diseases attack primarily the lungs and although both biological agents transmit mainly via close contact, the incubation period from exposure to disease in TB is longer, often with a slow onset.

TB symptoms include: 

  • Coughing for three or more weeks
  • Coughing up blood or mucus
  • Chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Chills

Above all, an early diagnosis of both TB and COVID-19 is important in the care of vulnerable people. Older age and certain comorbidities like Diabetes and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) increase the likelihood of severe COVID19. These risk factors are also poor prognostic factors in TB. Hence, inculcate healthy habits, protect yourself from infection & illness, and follow appropriate COVID19 behaviour.