TB anywhere is TB everywhere

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service - CNS
TB is still largely considered a poor man’s disease and is generally associated with the socially disadvantaged people living in low and middle income countries. But the story of Liam Joel Taylor proves that, being an air borne infection, TB can strike anyone anywhere.

31 years old Liam neither lives in a developing country, nor does he come from an economically or socially disadvantaged class. He lives near Liverpool and his father is a lecturer in South American Studies. In 2011, after doing his Masters in Environment and Development he went to South America to do some work on water pollution. Unfortunately the job fell through while he was there. Then he, along with his girl friend, spent around 7 months travelling to Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Columbia, and Ecuador. On his return to UK he got a job at a hospital. But two weeks later he started to get ill. “I started getting recurrent pain, especially on lifting heavy things or while walking; felt lethargic all the time and started to have night sweats. As I was born with a congenital heart problem, I initially thought that my heart condition could have something to do with it. I tried to carry on with vitamin and energy tablets and keep working. But when nothing helped I went to the doctor. They first did a skin test followed by a blood test and then an X—ray. My GP said it looked like TB and sent me to a particular hospital in Wales. I was in that hospital for about 3 days where they did my sputum testing. The laboratory results confirmed multi drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB). Frankly speaking, I was quite relieved that it was just TB, as I was more worried about a possible heart complication which could have been much more dangerous,” shared Liam.

Liam was then shifted to another hospital where he had to stay in an isolation ward for 11 weeks. During this isolation period he did not see much of his family and friends, even as they were very supportive and helpful. But his mother and family did manage to visit him daily for 2-3 hours, wearing masks. “I listened to the radio and watched TV during my isolation. I felt too ill to read. After 4-5 weeks I was allowed to go and walk for a while around in the car park with a mask on”. Recalling his treatment phase, Liam said, “I was put on a cocktail of 6-7 different types of medicines and had to take 15 tablets a day — pyrazinamide; clofazimine; cycloserine (it gave me hallucinations); amoxyfloxacin (it changed the QT level of my heartbeat); moxifloxin; PAS (made me feel very sick). But these were important antibiotics and I had to take them despite the side effects they caused. I was also administered amikacin, for half hour each morning, but it was stopped when I started to go deaf. After 11 weeks I was discharged form the hospital and could back to my community. I was on treatment for 22 months. All along I was having to give sputum samples so they could test drug resistance and whether the TB bacteria count was going down. At one point it went up which was scary”.

Liam was fortunate to have successfully completed his MDR-TB treatment. Since then he has been fit and fine. Barring a scar that remains, the cavity in his lung has healed up. But his hearing is impaired and he has a 50% hearing loss due to side effect of amikacin. After completing his treatment he started swimming and he thinks that has helped him to regain his stamina. “I think TB has started to come back with increased immigration, but I am not sure. I do not really know where I got it from. But it was definitely during my travels in South America. Even the doctors found it hard to believe that I had contracted TB, and that too the drug resistant form of it. Probably it is not true that TB affects the poor only. Anyone can get it.” Liam had to leave his earlier job considering the long length of treatment he had to undertake. He now does maintenance work in local council public parks and countryside, as he thinks that working outdoors will be healthy for him.

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service - CNS
November 16, 2016
(Shobha Shukla provided thematic coverage from the 47th Union World Conference on Lung Health, Liverpool, United Kingdom, was supported from TB Alliance (Global Alliance for TB Drug Development). Follow her on Twitter @Shobha1Shukla)