We can all play an important role in combating tuberculosis, according to this year’s World TB Day (Sunday, 24 March).
Titled In my lifetime, the campaign urges people to call for a world where no one dies from TB.
One of the issues the campaign seeks to highlight is the close links between HIV and tuberculosis.
People with HIV, who are not on HIV treatment, are more likely to get sick with other infections and diseases. TB is one of those diseases, according to Mr Tadgh McMahon, Manager of the Multicultural HIV and Hepatitis Service.
TB is caused by a bacterium that usually affects the lungs. TB can be active in the body or latent (sleeping). HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, weakens the immune system and “opens the door for other infections” – including TB. Treatments for HIV are available which can help the immune system to recover and stay strong.
“If HIV and TB are not treated, they can work together to cause serious illness and death,” said Mr McMahon.
Despite some reduction in tuberculosis-associated HIV deaths in the last two years, TB still remains the leading cause of death worldwide among people living with HIV.
The World Health Organisation estimates there were nearly nine million new cases of TB in 2010 and about one million of these were among people living with HIV. More than one million people died from TB and an additional 350,000 who died had TB and HIV. In India, there are more than two million people living with HIV with at least 480 thousand known to be living with HIV and TB.
Australia has one of the lowest TB rates in the world, largely due to its effective pre-migration screening program and other health initiatives. Despite that, people who are born in countries with a high TB burden may be at an increased risk of developing active TB.
“People born overseas are often under the misperception that TB doesn’t exist in Australia and may not know where to seek help for TB ,” according to Ms Dash Gray, Clinical Supervisor at the MHAHS.
“It is critical that we provide culturally sensitive information to address misperceptions about TB and HIV in Australia. Communities need to know that chest clinics, located around Australia, provide free and confidential TB testing and treatment,” Ms Gray said.
The WHO recommends that people found to have TB are tested for HIV and that people found to have HIV are tested for TB.
TB bacteria are spread from person to person through the air – usually when a person with active TB coughs, laughs, sneezes or sings. TB is not spread by sharing household utensils, cups or plates, or by saliva when kissing someone. People with active TB often feel weak or sick, lose weight rapidly, have a cough (sometimes with blood) and chest pain, have a fever, and have night sweats. Sometimes they have no symptoms. Active TB can be treated and cured in Australia.
The most common way to know if you have HIV is to have a simple blood test, available free of cost from sexual health clinics in Australia. The HIV test is also available from your doctor. There is currently no cure or vaccine for HIV. However, new HIV treatments are highly effective in reducing HIV in the blood to undetectable levels, which is great for the health of people living with HIV and can lower the risk of transmitting HIV to their sexual partners.
Information on TB and chest clinics in NSW in community languages, including Hindi, is available at http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/
Information on HIV and sexual health clinics in NSW in community languages, including plain English, is available at: www.mhahs.org.au