University of São Paulo: WHO data show that Brazil is the second country in the world in deaths from tuberculosis

World Tuberculosis Day (24/3) arrived accompanied by worrying data. According to a survey released by the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of deaths from tuberculosis rose 20% between 2019 and 2020, jumping from 1.2 million to 1.5 million cases. In the same period, the survey shows that the number of people suffering from tuberculosis who were not diagnosed and reported rose 29%, from 2.9 million to 4.1 million people. In 2020, Brazil recorded 66,819 new cases of tuberculosis, the second country in the world with the most records, according to the WHO. Currently, tuberculosis remains one of the deadliest infectious diseases in the world, with approximately 30,000 cases and 4,500 deaths recorded every day.

For the specialist in infectious diseases Valdes Roberto Bollela, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine of Ribeirão Preto (FMRP) at USP, the growth in the number of tuberculosis cases in the world was aggravated by the covid-19 pandemic. He explains that “all cases with suspected lung disease were investigated as covid”. When the possibility of the disease was ruled out, the patient was released, “without further investigation”, with many cases of tuberculosis not being diagnosed.

Unified Health System and vaccination in tuberculosis control
Faced with this scenario, Bolella explains that the unburdening of the Unified Health System (SUS) is crucial for the resumption of treatments against tuberculosis. This would only be possible by vaccinating the population, which was hampered by the anti-vaccination movement, says the professor. Before, “vaccination coverage was 95% to 97%, and now it is around 60% to 70%”.

Also according to Bolella, Brazil only had “minimally organized control of the pandemic on account of the SUS”. In that period, tuberculosis control was almost impossible, but now, with the improvement of sanitary conditions, “the treatment of both diseases can and must be carried out”, reinforces the professor.

Tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment
The diagnosis of tuberculosis is made mainly through the complaints presented by the patient. According to the professor, symptoms such as cough, expectoration and the presence of phlegm, with or without blood, are common in patients diagnosed with the disease. In addition, Bolella reinforces that the duration of symptoms, in the case of tuberculosis, can reach three months, while in diseases such as the flu, symptoms disappear in a few days.

Another important point highlighted by the professor is the treatment of people who had close contact with patients diagnosed with tuberculosis. He explains that “there are procedures aimed exclusively at preventing infection, that is, people who have been exposed to the disease can count on specialized treatment that prevents the advancement of tuberculosis”.

This entire process must be carried out in nearby health units, which carry out the evaluation procedure to determine what measures will be taken in the treatment of tuberculosis patients and people who have had contact with the disease.

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