What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is an infection due to a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The symptoms includes fever, night sweats, lethargy, cough with blood stained sputum and weight loss. Sometimes, it causes no symptoms and can only be detected by investigation like chest x-ray. To become infected, one would have to spend a long time in a closed environment where the air was contaminated by an infected person who is coughing out the bacteria.

Tuberculosis is global epidemic disease, with one third of the world’s population being infected at some stage, mostly in the developing world. However it is not a major hazard for short term travellers.


Prevention

Maintaining good general health and avoiding prolonged contacts with infected people are the most effective measures to prevent Tuberculosis.

The BCG Vaccine, though not 100% effective, is recommended for children under the age of 5 years who will be living in a high prevalence area for a long period of time, or health workers intending to work in high risk countries for prolonged periods. The vaccination can only be given by government recognised centres like Royal Childrens Hospital or Monash Medical Centre.

A special skin test (Tuberculin test) needs to be performed before the vaccination. People with positive skin test, past history of Tuberculosis, pregnancy, and generalised skin disease can not have the BCG vaccination.

The vaccine is a single injection given at least three months before travel, and can last up to 10 years.

Alternatively, travellers to highly prevalent areas can have a skin test before and 1 month after return to see whether the person has been infected. If skin test is positive, further tests or treatment can be initiated before symptoms appear.