Communicable Diseases – Tuberculosis

At Iridia Medical, many of our paramedics work in oil and gas camps in Northern British Columbia, as such, we encourage them to be prepared for whatever they may come across in these remote regions.

Throughout the year, we profile various diseases and afflictions to help further their understanding in the hopes they will be prepared should they come into contact with one of these diseases.

This week we are profiling a known transmissible disease that an individual may encounter in their career as a paramedic, nurse or other health care provider. It is our hope that this profile will allow you to quickly diagnose common or rare diseases should you come across them.

What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease. Tuberculosis is caused by Mycobacterium, bacteria which are spread through the air like the common cold. 

Tuberculosis typically attacks the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body. Most infections are asymptomatic and dormant, but about one in ten dormant infections eventually progresses to become an active disease which, if left untreated, kills more than 50% of those so infected.

In the active stage, a person often shows symptoms of the disease. Active bacteria will usually infect the lungs or airways but may also affect several organs (lymph nodes, kidneys, etc).

Risks

Weakened immune system – A healthy immune system can often successfully fight TB bacteria, but your body can’t mount an effective defense if your resistance is low. A number of diseases and medications can weaken your immune system, including: HIV/AIDS, diabetes, kidney disease and cancer treatment.

International connections – TB risk is higher for people who live in or travel to countries that have high rates of tuberculosis, such as: Sub-Saharan Africa, India, China and Mexico. 

Poverty and substance abuse – If you are on a low or fixed income, live in a remote area, have recently immigrated, or are homeless, you may lack access to the medical care needed to diagnose and treat TB. Long-term drug or alcohol use weakens your immune system and makes you more vulnerable to tuberculosis.

Prevention

If you have active TB, keep your germs from spreading. It generally takes a few weeks of treatment with TB medications before you’re not contagious anymore. Follow these tips to help keep your friends and family from getting sick: Stay home, ventilate the room, cover your mouth and wear a mask.

Symptoms

For active TB, symptoms usually include swollen and sore lymph glands, weakness or feeling very tired, weight loss, lack of appetite, chills, fever, night sweats. For active TB in the lungs and airways (pulmonary TB), symptoms usually include a bad cough that lasts longer than three weeks, pain in the chest, coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm).

H1N1 More Deadly Than Previously Thought

H1N1 Emerges

In 2009 the world was taken by surprise. A new global flu pandemic swooped into our lives, creating media frenzy.

As pandemic and emergency preparedness specialists, we at Iridia Medical were prepared to fight the outbreak and did just that.

But by August 2012, little over a year after the H1N1 virus became breaking news, the Director-General of the World Health Organization declared an end to the pandemic and left everyone wondering, “did the WHO exaggerated the danger,” spreading fear and confusion.

Influenza Virus - H1N1

Influenza Virus

When the H1N1 virus spread around the world three years ago, there was little over 18,500 deaths reported; a number much lower than the global media attention would have one believe.

Shedding New Light

Criticism and finger pointing are inevitably part of an outbreak cycle. During the H1N1 outbreak some even went as far to call it a “false pandemic.” Contrary to this belief, a new study suggests the outbreak was more severe than originally thought.

Now that the dust has settled, the actual number of deaths from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic has been pegged at more than 15 times higher than earlier estimates.

Based on a study published online in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, researchers estimate 284,400 people actually died in the first year alone.

According to the study authors, the actual number of deaths linked to the H1N1 flu virus could range anywhere from 151,700 to 575,400.

H1N1 Map

H1N1 reported cases from 2009

H1N1 – A Numbers Game

The sudden change in statistics is due to a number of reasons:

• Health officials did not take into account laboratory-confirmed flu deaths can considerably underestimate of the actual number of deaths from the flu.
• During the 2009 pandemic, many countries, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia, lacked the ability to perform routine laboratory tests and therefore had difficulty identifying H1N1-related deaths.
• The WHO data suggests less than 12% of the confirmed deaths were in Africa and Southeast Asia, this new study estimates 51% of the deaths may have been from those two regions alone.

Lessons Learned

Dawood, a medical epidemiologist (also known as a disease detective) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says she hopes this research will help “limit the loss of human life in future pandemics.”

Studies like this are important as they can provide us with solid evidence of disease spread, infection rates and the impact of pandemics in various geographical regions; leading to future prevention efforts.