Tuberculosis and HIV, two old acquaintances
AIDS, that is, the serious stage of HIV infection, is characterized by the presence of an immune system so weak that it is not capable of dealing with other series of illnesses and infections, known as opportunistic infections.
Among those opportunistic infections, one of the most visible is tuberculosis. And it is that even since the first years of the AIDS pandemic, at the beginning of the eighties of the last century, tuberculosis has been present together with HIV.
Even at the beginning of the present century, it was common for people who came to health services with tuberculosis to be sent for an HIV test, since tuberculosis occurs more frequently in people with weak immune systems weakened.
Paradoxically, things are not so simple in the reverse direction. That is, when someone has HIV but is not under treatment, it is difficult to diagnose tuberculosis because the blood tests carried out to detect it can give false negatives in these circumstances, says the Healthline site, a website dedicated to communicating issues of health, and supervised by doctors.
According to data from the World Health Organization, people living with HIV are 18 times more likely to develop active tuberculosis, in addition to the fact that some 215,000 people with HIV die each year from tuberculosis associated with the infection.
When infection with HIV and tuberculosis bacteria are present at the same time, the person is said to have a co-infection. It is considered that this condition should be treated with special care.
It should be remembered that tuberculosis can be classified as latent or active. The first does not cause symptoms and is not capable of contagious, but the second does have symptoms and is highly contagious.
How do I know if I have tuberculosis?
Although latent tuberculosis does not affect the person who has it or other people, it is important to take treatment (through antibiotics) to eliminate it, since this prevents the development of serious symptoms in the event that the HIV infection get complicated.
If HIV is not treated and given a chance to affect the immune system, latent TB may become active more quickly, although it is important to know that not all cases of latent TB will progress to active.
On the other hand, for a person with HIV who has active tuberculosis, the next step is to seek medical care and isolate to avoid transmitting it to others.
Symptoms of active tuberculosis include:
– Cough that does not subside and may include mucus or blood
– Night sweats
– Unexplained weight loss
– Chest pain
– Loss of appetite
Take the test
If you show the above symptoms, go to your health team to check you out. Tuberculosis can be mistaken for pneumonia, lung cancer, or fungal lung infection, but the way to accurately diagnose it is by screening. This test can be performed in two ways:
– Skin test: A small amount of tuberculin purified protein derivative (or PPD) is placed under the skin by subcutaneous injection in the forearm. The objective is to see if the body reacts to the administered agent, so after the injection (which is made with a special syringe for tuberculin), the person goes home and returns after 2 or 3 days to be checked. If the injection site is swollen or has a lump, the person has tuberculosis.
– Blood test: A small blood sample is analyzed in the laboratory, this in search of antibodies against tuberculosis that the immune system has developed.
If any of these tests are positive, the doctor may order some other tests, such as a chest x-ray.
When prescribing treatment for tuberculosis, it is important to keep in mind that taking this and antiretroviral treatment simultaneously can cause some side effects. For this reason, HIV specialists must carefully plan treatment.
If you live with HIV, remember that the first step to take better care of your health is to stick to treatment. If you haven’t started yours yet or if you suspended it and want to resume it, come to AHF Latin America and the Caribbean and we can support you. Locate your nearest office, we are in 11 countries in the region.