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The Connection between TB and HIV

The week has been an eventful one where we celebrated World TB Day and spread messages around the importance of ensuring fast tracked Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) and Tuberculosis (TB) treatment in people living with HIV because, this ultimately saves lives.

We began the subject last week and today we zero in on the connection between the two diseases and why we need to take them both seriously in our quest to end AIDS as a public health threat.  More so because people living with HIV are more likely than others to become sick with TB. This is because HIV weakens the immune system, which makes it harder for the body to fight TB germs. This article is meant to educate and give added knowledge about TB as an opportunistic infection and how dangerous it is to People living with HIV if left untreated.

First we need to understand what TB is, in order to appreciate its effect on a weakened immune system of a person who is living with HIV and not on treatment. TB is a disease that usually affects the lungs. TB sometimes affects other parts of the body, such as the brain, the kidneys or the spine. TB disease can cause death if it is not treated.

How is TB spread

It is also critical to understand how TB is spread so we avoid exposing ourselves to it. TB germs are spread from person to person through the air. TB germs are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, laughs, or sings. People nearby may breathe in the germs and become infected. And just like HIV, TB is NOT spread by sharing silverware or cups, or sharing saliva when kissing someone.

What is the difference between latent TB infection and TB disease?

Latent TB infection
Not everyone infected with TB gets sick. People who are infected, but are not sick, have what is called latent TB infection. People with latent TB infection have TB germs in their body, but they are not sick because the germs lie dormant (sleeping) in their body.

People with latent TB infection do not have symptoms and cannot spread the germs to others. However, these people could develop TB disease in the future, especially if they have HIV. To prevent developing TB disease, people with latent TB infection should take medicine.

TB disease
People with TB disease are sick from the large number of TB germs that are active in their body. They usually have one or more of the symptoms of TB disease. People with TB disease often feel weak or sick, lose weight, have fever, and have night sweats. If TB disease is in their lungs, they may also cough and have chest pain, and they might cough up blood. Other symptoms depend on what part of the body is affected by the TB germs.

People with TB disease may spread TB germs to others. TB disease needs to be treated with medicine. If NOT treated, a person with TB disease can have serious health problems and die.

Why is it important to know if I am infected with both TB and HIV?

If you have HIV, it is important to know if you have TB infection because HIV weakens the immune system. When a person’s immune system is weak, latent TB infection can quickly progress to TB disease. If you have HIV, it is very important to get a TB test.

If you have latent TB infection or TB disease, and you do not know your HIV status, you should get an HIV test. This will help your physician know how to treat both your TB and HIV infections.

Good News!

The good news is that latent TB infection and TB disease can be treated. The first step is to find out if you are infected with the TB germs. You can do this by getting a TB skin test or TB blood test. You can get this TB test from your doctor or nearest clinic.

What if I am HIV Positive with TB symptoms but test negative for TB

Some people with HIV infection will have a negative test result even if they are infected with TB germs. This is because the immune system, which causes the reaction to the tests, is not working properly. People with HIV who have a negative TB test may need further medical examination, especially if they have symptoms of TB disease.

A negative test usually means you are not infected with TB germs. However, the tests may be falsely negative if you have a weakened immune system or if you were infected recently. This is because it usually takes 2 to 8 weeks after exposure to a person with TB disease for your immune system to produce a response to the test. If you have a negative result and it has been less than 8 weeks since you were last exposed to TB disease, you may need to get a second test. Your health care worker will let you know if you need another test.

What should I do if I have latent TB infection or TB disease?

Even if you have HIV, both latent TB infection and TB disease can be treated with medication. If you have latent TB infection and HIV, you are at high risk for developing TB disease. You will need treatment for latent TB infection as soon as possible to prevent TB disease. If you have TB disease, you must take medicine to treat the disease. Without treatment, TB disease can cause you to get very sick or even die. It’s important to get the required follow-up tests, follow your doctor’s advice, and take the medicine as prescribed.