Has Covid-19 protocol led to fall in TB cases in TN?

Fewer cases since 2020, but experts say scientific proof is needed to establish link between pandemic measures and TB decline 
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

CHENNAI: Has Covid-19 appropriate behaviour like wearing face masks and observing social distancing also helped bring down Tuberculosis (TB) cases in the State? Data hint so. The State notified 1,10,841 new TB cases in 2019, 70,546 in 2020 and 61,023 in 2021 (till October 10), shows data from the State Tuberculosis Control Department 

While a few doctors term it a ‘blessing in disguise’, health experts want scientific proof that such behaviour indeed helped restrict transmission of TB, a chronic respiratory disease that affects the lungs. This, they said, might take time, at least another year.

amit bandre
amit bandre

Speaking to TNIE, State Tuberculosis Officer Dr Asha Frederick said: “We need to first look at national trend and undertake a research before concluding that Covid-19 preventive measures helped reduce TB cases; two years of data is not enough.”

On the possibility of TB patients not reporting cases in the past two years because of Covid, Asha said: “If they developed the disease during these years, they would have reported it by now. The decline in TB cases continues even after Covid-19 situation bettered and normal activities resumed.” For the final numbers this year, we have to wait as there are two more months to go, she added.

According to data from the Union Health Ministry, nationwide cases also declined marginally in the last two years. In 2019, 24,00,717 TB cases were notified across the country, 18,12,718 in 2020, and 16,13,343 in 2021 (till October). 

Dr R Sridhar, Director, Government Hospital of Thoracic Medicine, Tambaram Sanitorium, said, “Masking will restrict the transmission of TB. But we have to observe it for at least a year.” Patients should get diagnosed even if they have the mildest of TB symptoms like light cough or mild fever. Annually over four lakh people succumb to TB across the country, he added.

Dr G S Vijayachandar, Administrative Medical Officer, Government Institute of Thoracic Medicine, said many might not be coming to hospitals for fear of Covid infection as a few of the symptoms of Covid and TB are the same – cough and fever. With both the diseases, not all who get infected develop breathing difficulty. Masking will really help restrict transmission of respiratory diseases, including TB. Because of masking, spitting in public places might also have come down, Vijayachandar added. 

“The TB bacteria will live for over 24 hours in the sputum of a TB patient. It will hang in the air around that place and can enter the respiratory system of passersby,” Vijayachandar added. TB is caused by Mycobacterium Tuberculosis bacteria, which primarily affect lungs. They spreads through air, so both patients and those with them should wear face masks and maintain some distance among one another.

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