RITM Live zeroes in on the importance of early prevention and treatment for Tuberculosis

The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), through its RITM Live: Ask the Expert series, zero in on the importance of early prevention and treatment for tuberculosis (TB) during the broadcast of its sixth episode on March 24.

RITM TB Clinic Head and RITM Live guest expert, Dr. Aileen Gianan-Gascon, discussed the symptoms, clinical management, and available treatment for TB during her lecture, “Ang TB ay sakit sanhi ng mikrobyong Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Ito ay karaniwang umaatake sa baga ngunit maari ding maapektuhan ang ibang bahagi ng katawan. Maari itong makamatay kung hindi mabibigyan ng kaukulang pansin.”

RITM TB Clinic Head Dr. Aileen Gianan-Gascon discussed the symptoms, clinical management, and available treatment for tuberculosis during the RITM Live Episode 6 broadcast on March 24.

TB infection may cause the following symptoms:

  • cough that lasts 2 weeks or longer;
  • coughing up blood or phlegm;
  • fever;
  • weight loss; or,
  • back pain

Dr. Gascon explained that although TB bacteria usually grow in the lungs, it can also attack other parts of the body, or what is known as extrapulmonary TB. Since TB bacteria is transmitted via air from one person to another, Dr. Gascon noted that the bacteria can settle in the lungs and begin to grow. From the lungs, the TB bacteria can then move through the blood to other parts of the body like the spine or the bones.

When asked about latent TB, Dr. Gascon explained that latent TB infection means having the TB bacteria live in the body without exhibiting any symptoms. She added that latent TB cannot be determined by x-ray and should be further confirmed through diagnostic tests such as tuberculin skin test o Interferon Gamma Release Assay (IGRA).

Although latent TB infection does not cause any symptoms, Dr. Gascon noted that it is still crucial for people with latent TB to get tested and for their close contacts to be traced and monitored. She added that there is still a possibility for the bacteria to become active and cause TB disease, especially for people with weak immune system.

For patients with HIV infection and who also tested positive with TB, Dr. Gascon pointed out the importance of getting treatment for TB. She added that people with HIV infection are 20-30 times more likely to get infected by other bacteria like TB.

During the broadcast, Dr. Gascon also answered why TB remains a worldwide problem, “Maraming rason kung bakit problema pa rin ang TB. Bagama’t hindi na suliranin ng mga first world countries ang TB, hinaharap pa rin ito ng mga developing countries tulad ng Pilipinas. Sa mga developing country, mas madalas ang kawalan ng maluluwag na tahanan at mga pasilidad para sa mga confinement ng mga may nakakahahawang sakit, kung kaya ay nagkakaroon ng mahinang sirkulasyon ng hangin. Hindi rin nagtutugma ang bilang ng mga kaso sa mga naitalang kaso ng TB, at kakulangan ng mga testing site.”

Dr. Gascon highlighted the importance of getting tested and treated for TB.

Kadalasan, ang taong apektado ng TB na tuloy-tuloy ang gamutan ay hindi na nakahahawa dalawang linggo matapos ang unang beses ng kanyang paggamot. Kung kaya ay mahalagang makainom na agad ng gamot ang isang indibidwal matapos ma-diagnose ng TB. Mahalaga rin ang agarang gamutan ng TB sapagkat hindi lang nito maaapektuhan ang katawan ng isang pasyente kundi pati na rin ang kanyang pang-araw araw na buhay,” said Dr. Gascon.

In the Philippines, Dr. Gascon said that consultation and treatment for TB medicine are available for free at local health centers and/or TB DOTS clinics in the community. Patients around Muntinlupa City may consult with the local municipal health center or at the RITM TB DOTS Clinic, from Monday to Friday, 8AM to 5PM.

During the broadcast, Dr. Gascon repeatedly emphasized that TB is treatable and curable. She noted that it is important for patients with TB infection to finish their medicine as prescribed as this may cause the infection to become resistant to TB drugs. Regular consultation with their healthcare providers is crucial to ensure that no doses are missed and stopped early; and that the patients’ response to treatment are monitored. 

Yes we can end TB!

In commemoration of World Tuberculosis Day, the RITM Communication and Engagement Office partnered with the Philippine Coalition Against Tuberculosis (PhilCAT) for the 6th episode of RITM Live. PhilCAT National Chair Dr. Janice Caoili delivered an urgent call to action towards the achievement of set targets and programs to end the TB pandemic.

Dr. Janice Caoili, National Chair, Philippine Coalition Against Tuberculosis (PhilCAT), delivers her opening remarks during the 6th episode of RITM Live: Ask the Expert on Tuberculosis.

As our country transitions to a post COVID-19 pandemic era, we need to put TB front and center on our agenda. Like COVID-19, TB should be provided the same attention and resources to enable us to end the TB pandemic. We know that TB can be controlled via responsive public health programs, ensuring that all TB patients have access to quality-assured rapid diagnostic tests, effective anti-TB drugs, and a supportive environment of healthcare workers in communities that promote treatment adherence and control of risk factors such as malnutrition, smoking, alcohol abuse, diabetes, and HIV. These programs need to be supported, sustained, and equitably implemented in all areas of the country,” said by Dr. Caoili, during her Opening Remarks.

Dr. Caoili also highlighted that most TB cases remained undiagnosed and untreated in the communities. “The Philippines contributed around 10% of the estimated global reduction in TB notification from 2019 to 2021. Of the estimated 741,000 cases of new and relapsed TB, only 43% were diagnosed and officially reported,” said Dr. Caoili.

During her lecture, Dr. Gascon also emphasized the latest data from the World Health Organization which included the Philippines in the list of countries with high burden of TB cases and with increased gap between TB incidence and reported cases.

At the end of her lecture, Dr. Gascon encouraged the viewers to not think twice on consulting with their doctors to determine if they have TB. She emphasized the importance of getting tested and treated for TB early to avoid complications, possible transmission to other individuals, and to get back on track with their daily lives, “Early recognition and treatment will help us end, or contribute to end of the TB [pandemic] in the country and worldwide.”

We need to get back on track,” said Dr. Caoili. “During the pandemic, seemingly insurmountable tasks were accomplished successfully through genuine collaboration among diverse stakeholders, effective government policies, adaptive research methodologies, and innovative technologies in the diagnosis, prevention, and management of COVID-19.” She emphasized that the same efforts and resources are needed to end the TB pandemic.

PhilCAT, in collaboration with the Department of Health and other partner organizations, spearheaded the commemoration of World Tuberculosis Day at the Quezon City Memorial Circle last March 26, with the theme “Tayo’y Magbayanihan, TB ay Tuldukan.”

RITM Live: Ask the Expert series aims to popularize the Science behind the work that we do at the Institute and make our medical and technical experts accessible via Facebook Live broadcast.

Watch the episode here: RITM Live Episode 6