Health

A prolonged cough may be a sign of tuberculosis

If you have been concerned over a persistent cough which lasted over a month, there is a chance you have contracted tuberculosis (TB).

It typically refers to an infection caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and lung infection by the bacteria is termed pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB). Symptoms of PTB may include prolonged cough, bloody phlegm, fever, weight loss, night sweats and shortness of breath.

Dr Mark Ng Chung Wai, family physician at SingHealth Polyclinics Outram and chair of its Infection Control and Infectious Disease Workgroup, said: "According to the 2016 guidelines on the prevention, diagnosis and management of tuberculosis by Singapore's Ministry of Health, the possibility of PTB should be considered in anyone with prolonged cough of more than three weeks, and a chest X-ray should be done."

According to the World Health Organization, TB is one of the top 10 killers worldwide, and a leading cause of death in HIV-positive patients. Ten million people were diagnosed with TB in 2017, and 1.6 million died from the disease.

In Singapore, more than 3,100 TB cases were reported in 2017, with over 2,100 new cases among Singapore residents and long-staying foreigners. Of these, 85 per cent had PTB, while the rest had extra-pulmonary TB2. The number of new TB cases remains high, with over 1,000 cases per year over the last decade.

Dr Ng said: "Early diagnosis is important, as PTB is a curable and preventable disease."

Ahead of World Tuberculosis Day on March 24, here are some suggested measures :to help prevent the disease.

1. Practise good cough etiquette

PTB is spread through the air when a person coughs or sneezes.

Good cough etiquette means that one should cover the mouth and nose - for instance, with a piece of tissue paper - when coughing or sneezing. Do not leave the dirty tissue paper around but dispose of it in a bag.

2. Keep your immune system healthy

Persons with low immunity are at higher risk of contracting PTB. To keep your immune system healthy, adopt a healthy lifestyle. That means healthy eating habits, exercising regularly and getting ample rest.

3. See a doctor

If you have persistent cough for more than three weeks.

4. Adhere to the treatment

It is important for patients who have been diagnosed with TB to adhere strictly to the treatment to ensure they recover completely and prevent the TB germs from becoming drug resistant. As TB germs take a long time to be exterminated, the medication treatment usually takes six to nine months to complete. It is essential for patients to be persistent and consistent, and it is advisable to stay at home during the period of treatment so as to reduce interaction with the public, especially during the first three weeks.

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