How alcohol abuse contributes to heavy TB burden

Friday, February 3rd, 2023 05:20 | By
An image used to illustrated alcoholism. PHOTO/Internet.

Despite global efforts, tuberculosis (TB) remains a significant cause of death and long-term disability. In Kenya, tuberculosis remains the fourth leading cause of death and the country is named among 22 TB high-burden countries in the world.

A study published in the African Journal of Alcohol & Drug Abuse (AJADA) last December, which was conducted at Othaya Level Four hospital, exposed how alcohol abuse is also fuelling tuberculosis.

The hospital recorded the highest number of new TB incidences in 2018 and 2019 compared to other Level Four health facilities, in the study that targeted 47 tuberculosis patients, one clinical officer, a nurse, a social worker and a public health officer.

TB is caused by germs that are spread from person to person through the air, and usually affects the lungs. But it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, the kidneys, or the spine. The bacterial disease can be fatal if left untreated.

The findings showed that 12 out of 40 people identified during the survey were from the Central region while the remaining 28 were distributed among Eastern, Coast, North Eastern, Nyanza and Western regions.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), a medical condition symbolised by diminished ability to stop or control alcohol use in spite of negative social, occupational, or health consequences is estimated to affect three per cent of Africa’s population. Kenya continues to face the greatest challenge to drug misuse amid regulatory attempts to curtail drinking.

An online journal, alcohol.org, reveals that studies on binge drinking, for example, have shown that drinking too much in one day can lower the immune system’s response to infection. Within the first 20 minutes of drinking excessively, the study found that participants’ immune response kicked into high gear, as the toxins in alcohol began to affect body systems.

At the two-hour and five-hour marks, however, the percentage of immune system cells in the blood dropped below what they were when participants were sober. The study indicated that people who drank more than moderately, especially in one evening, were at greater risk of contracting infections or having a harder time overcoming existing infections.

Studies further indicate that about 10 per cent of deaths from tuberculosis are due to global substance abuse such as alcohol. The adverse effects of alcohol on TB have been reported both in terms of delays in obtaining care as well as non-compliance with medication.

Individuals with healthy immune systems may come in contact with tuberculosis bacteria, but their immune systems are able to fight off the infection easily. Alcohol and drug abuse is associated with damage to the immune system, especially over years of addiction and substance abuse. Tuberculosis is one of the many harmful infections that one may contract if they drink too much.

In cases where individuals have been exposed to TB and it has been suppressed for years, substance abuse like alcohol use disorder may eventually harm the immune system to the point that symptoms of the infection surface.

According to the American Addiction Centres, people who abuse alcohol are less likely to get treatment for TB symptoms. Additionally, heavy drinking can harm many body parts, often making the person feel sick when they are not drinking. Consequently, since they struggle with alcohol dependence and addiction they are more likely to keep drinking to disregard or temporarily ease symptoms rather than seek medical treatment for tuberculosis.

—The writer is the Manager Corporate Communications-NACADA —[email protected]

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