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Health Epidemics

Is Tuberculosis (TB) an Epidemic in Oroquieta City?
What is TB

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. These bacteria can attack any part of the body, but their prime attack usually takes place in the lungs. TB disease was once the leading cause of death not only in the United States, but many parts of the world including the Philippines. According to Dr. Emerico L. Conol (Oroquieta City’s Consultant on Health, Peace, Order and Environment), TB was the Number 1 cause of death in Oroquieta City until about 10 years ago. Through the years the TB incidence has reportedly decreased and in the year 2001 TB went down from the Number 1 to the Number 11 cause of death in Oroquieta City. However, this year TB has reportedly resurfaced where it has climbed up to Number 8 cause of death in our City.

According to sources, the treatment of TB was discovered in the 1940s by group of scientists. This discovery had slowly eradicated the TB epidemic. However, TB has reemerged in the last two decades. In the United States alone, the number of TB cases has reportedly increased between the year 1985 and 1992. For that reason, the United States Department of Health through its Centers for Disease Control (CDC located in Atlanta, Georgia), has mandated to actively control the spread of the disease. As a result, the TB incidence in the US has again declined. The CDC program includes a provision of drugs to its citizens who are exposed or infected with the disease. Similar to the CDC program, the prevention of TB in the Philippines is mandated by the National Government and is disseminated to its Regional Health Department. In Oroquieta City, the treatment drugs for TB are given out by the Region 10’s Department of Health in Cagayan de Oro City. However, because of the country’s continued economic constraints, the TB prevention program in the Philippines is unstable. Many communities still suffer from the disease due to lack of appropriate treatment and preventive measures.

Spread of TB

Unlike AIDS where the infection is carried through routes, such as needle stick, blood, and seminal fluids, TB on the other hand, is spread through the air from one person to another. These bacteria are released into the air when a person with TB coughs or sneezes. When a person breathes in TB bacteria, the bacteria can settle in the lungs and begin to grow. From there, they can move through the blood to other parts of the body, such as the kidneys, spine, and brain. TB in the lungs or throat is found to be infectious. This means that the bacteria can be spread to other people. TB in other parts of the body, such as the kidneys or spine, has been reported to be usually not infectious.

People with TB disease have tendencies to spread TB to people they spend time with every day. This includes family members, friends, and coworkers. Therefore, it is very important to isolate a person with TB and immediate treatment must be given to prevent the spread of the disease. In U.S. hospitals, a TB patient is placed in a so called "Reverse Isolation Room" where the flow of air from the patient room goes out one way - meaning out into a wide open air where there are no people who are of immediate danger of being infected.

What is Inactive or Latent TB

Some people who are infected with "inactive or latent" TB do not feel sick, nor do they exhibit any symptoms of the disease. This group of people is usually those who have been around people with TB. People with Latent TB are detected early where the results of the standard TB Skin Test prove positive. People with Latent TB are infected with these bacteria, but because their body is able to fight the bacteria from growing, the bacteria become inactive. While inactive, the bacteria remain alive in the body and can become active again when the body’s immune system becomes weak and is unable to resist or fight. Although these people cannot spread these bacteria immediately, however, they may develop TB disease at some time in the future. TB infection is not a hopeless case because TB is treatable and curable if a person infected with these bacteria seek immediate medical help. In the United States, people who are exposed to the disease or are infected with TB are given prophylactic treatment in the form of a pill that is taken daily for six months.

The most vulnerable group of population that are endangered of TB infection are people with weak immune systems, such as the babies, young children, HIV or AIDS patients, elderly and the very sick patients. The poor people are also vulnerable to the disease. This is because of their poor environment and poor hygiene. In Oroquieta City, our poor community is at risk of TB infection. Therefore, the City Health Department is tasked by the Local Government to oversea the prevention and treatment of the disease through screening and assessment initiatives. However, because of the City’s dependence from the Region 10’s DOH to sustain the community’s need for more treatment drugs, this prevention program is becoming unstable.

According to Dr. Conol, the supply of TB treatment drugs is very low and there is no guarantee as to whether more supply will come to our Oroquieta communities. Because of the country’s ongoing economic struggle, medical supplies for the needy Filipinos are burdensome. Therefore, our City Health officials in Oroquieta City are pleading for your support for donations of these types of treatment to help stop the immediate spread of TB in our communities.

Symptoms of TB infection

TB in the lungs may cause a bad cough that lasts longer than 2 weeks. Chest pain will follow and phlegm are expelled from deep inside the lungs through coughed up blood or sputum. Secondary symptoms will immediately follow, such as weakness or fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, chills and fever, and night sweats

TB Testing

In the United States TB is detected through TB Skin Test or Chest X-Ray. Reaction to the Skin Test would require a further examination through X-Ray method. As mentioned earlier, the TB bacteria may be found in other parts of the body, therefore, blood or urine test is done to detect the bacteria presence.

In the Philippines, a similar surveillance and treatment program called Directly Obeserve Treatment (DOT) is mandated by the National Government. This program emphasizes provision of the TB treatment drugs through its Community Health clinic at the Barangay units. This program only mandates to give the TB treatment drugs only to the people who are identified TB positive through the sputum test. Therefore, the supply of such drugs is only limited to this group of people. However, in Oroquieta City, the City Health Office is giving out TB treatment drugs to people who are identified as TB positive from the Chest X-ray exam. As a result, the City’s supply of TB treatment drugs is now becoming very low. Therefore, on behalf of our brothers and sisters back home, we are pleading for support from everywhere to help support our need for more TB treatment drugs.

Any test results that prove positive (regardless of whether or not you are aware of being exposed to TB bacteria), it is very important that you receive the appropriate treatment to control the spread of the disease. Proper hygiene and good nutrition are very important to maintain or strengthen your immune system. Eating a well-balanced meal (rice, fish, fruits and vegetables) 3 times a day will help improve your nutritional health, and thus improve your immune system.

Ofelia B. Mutia, M.S., R.D., L.D.
Registered/Licensed Dietitian &
Clinical Nutritionist

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Saturday, April 19, 2003 (Revised)