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09 Mar 2022 World Tuberculosis Day: What You Must Know When Caring for the Elderly

Though Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease known for more than a hundred years, it is still one of the most common causes of death worldwide in the present time, especially among older populations. In 2019, a total of 10 million new cases of people who developed active TB disease were recorded globally. While active TB can be treated and cured in most cases, around 1.4 million people died from TB alone in 2019 across the globe.


Still, most people are ignorant of this global epidemic and do not take precautions to prevent it. To increase public awareness about tuberculosis and eliminate the disease, the WHO celebrates World Tuberculosis Day on March 24 every year. Since Tuberculosis Day is just a month away, we want to help you become aware of TB. This blog aims to help families and caregivers for seniors to identify TB and how to prevent it among seniors.


What You Need to Know About Latent Tuberculosis in the Elderly

Latent Tuberculosis refers to the infection in which TB bacteria lives in the body without making people sick. Once people get infected, their body is typically capable of fighting the TB bacteria and stopping them from growing. At this stage, latent TB is not infectious, does not show any symptoms, and cannot spread from an infected person to another.


However, when immunity is weakened due to aging or some health condition and the body can not fight the TB bacteria anymore, the bacteria become active and start multiplying rapidly. For this reason, it is important to treat aging adults with latent TB to prevent them from developing TB disease. 


Risk Factors for Latent TB Infection

A person may develop latent TB infection after coming in contact with:

  • People suffering from active TB

  • People who were born, have lived, or travelled in high-risk countries

  • People with high risk and rates of TB transmission, such as homeless shelters, nursing homes, refugee camps, HIV/AIDS, prisons, and hospitals


People who have compromised or weak immune systems, including the elderly, are more likely to develop TB disease.


Symptoms of Latent TB Infection

Since latent TB does not cause any visible symptoms, it is difficult to identify latent TB infection. With latent TB, people do not often feel sick. However, people with latent TB:

  • Have usually a negative (normal) chest X-ray

  • Have positive TST and/or positive TB Blood Test


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people with increased risk of tuberculosis to be tested for latent TB infection. This includes people who:

  • Are elderly with the compromised immune systems or suffering from a disease that makes them more susceptible to TB

  • Suffer from HIV/AIDS

  • Struggle with malnutrition

  • Use IV drugs

  • Use tobacco

  • Have severe kidney disease

  • Have certain cancers

  • Are taking drugs to prevent transplanted organs rejection

  • Using drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis, Crohns disease, and psoriasis

  • Come from a country where TB cases are too common

  • Live in communities or work in areas where TB cases are common

  • Have cared for a family member with TB

  • Work in the healthcare industry and treat patients with TB or high risk of TB

  • Are kids and have been exposed to adults with TB disease


If latent TB goes undetected, it may progress later and can turn into an active TB disease.


Symptoms of Active TB Disease

Families and caregivers for seniors should keep an eye on the elderly if they develop the following symptoms and recommend them to visit their doctor without any delay.

  • Coughing for three or more weeks

  • Chest pain

  • Pain during breathing or coughing

  • Sudden weight loss

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of appetite

  • Night sweats and chills


If seniors are not in the condition of scheduling their appointments or visiting the healthcare facility by themselves, their caregivers can help them not only with making appointments but also seeing the doctor, and giving all the prescribed medications timely.


Note: Active TB disease is contagious. Thus, preventive actions must be taken while taking care of the elderly or anyone with TB infection or disease.


How to Prevent the Spread of Infection While Caring for Elderly with TB

When taking care of the elderly with TB infection/disease, you should:

  • Isolate the patient in a well-ventilated room (preferably in an airborne infection isolation room)

  • Wear an N-95 respirator mask

  • Install air filter to eliminate airborne particles carrying germs if possible

  • Wash and sanitize hands properly after coming in contact with the patient and their belongings


If your aging loved one is diagnosed with latent TB/ active TB disease, you can take the help of senior home care services as professional caregivers are better trained and prepared to take care of the elderly who are ill and need assistance and proper care.