With the many dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke, it doesn’t come as a surprise that smoking and tuberculosis (TB) are closely linked. TB affected 40 million people in the world last year, including women and children.
While global efforts to reduce its spread worldwide have been made a global policy, active smokers and people exposed to secondhand smoke are at extremely high risk of contracting TB.
In this post, we’ll explore how smoking and tuberculosis are related and how it weakens the immune system, paving the way for infection.
Exploring the Link Between Tuberculosis and Smoking
Smoking not only increases the risk of contracting TB but also exacerbates its severity and hinders effective treatment. Weak lungs compromised by smoking are at an extreme risk of contracting the disease brought by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which often infects the lungs and can spread to the spine and brain once it ramps up its activity.
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How Smoking Weakens the Respiratory Immune Defense
It’s no surprise that the harmful chemicals in tobacco compromise the natural defence mechanisms of our lungs. Various chemicals like formaldehyde, cadmium, and arsenic found in cigarette smoke damage the lungs and your immune system, and impact its ability to clean inhaled air.
Enough damage to the lungs can cause infections that are too much for the immune system to handle. Remember that cigarette smoke also affects its response, and TB bacteria will spread further once your immune system is overwhelmed.
How TB Spreads in the Air
Does TB bacteria spread through cigarette smoke? No, it doesn’t, but cigarette smoke plays a role in increasing its infectiousness.
Most people may have TB infection without feeling any symptoms associated with it. Latent TB infections, once treated or overcome by your immune system, will go away on their own.
However, active TB infections require much more critical medical attention, and an infected person can transmit it by simply talking, sneezing, coughing or singing.
So, if your GP confirms you have an active TB infection, it’s best to stop smoking and stay in an isolated environment to avoid infecting others and go through a critical recovery process to improve your condition.
Factors Influencing the Transmission of Tuberculosis
As we’ve mentioned, only active TB infections can transmit the bacteria responsible for tuberculosis infections. There are several factors that could increase the risk of spreading TB infections in the air even further:
- Close Contact with an Infected Person: Being in the same space with anyone who has TB infection is enough to raise suspicions of having spread TB to others in the same space – these include open-air spaces.
- Duration of Exposure: According to data, anyone exposed to someone with a TB infection for an hour has the smallest chance of getting infected. However, it’s likely that someone exposed for more than 250 hours may have latent to active TB infection.
- Infectiousness of the Source Case: TB infectiousness varies from case-to-case. In some cases, anyone infected with TB has spread it to almost all of their contacts while in other cases it’s spread to none. On average, about 20-30% of people exposed to the infection get infected.
- Ventilation and Airflow: A TB infection is containable if the infected patient stays in an isolated area. However, a poorly ventilated space (think of a room with small windows or no air-purifying systems) can spread the infection beyond the containment space.
- Immunity Level: The spread of TB also depends on a person’s immunity level. Anyone with a high immunity level exposed to a TB-infected person may experience few to zero symptoms of TB. An active smoker with compromised immunity and comorbidities may progress from latent to active infections fast.
- Malnutrition: Our bodies need enough nutrition to remain in good shape and have a fully-functional immune system. Poor nutrition, accompanied by comorbidities or substance addiction increases the risk of contracting active infections.
- Other Respiratory Conditions: Lastly, anyone with prior lung conditions are at a higher risk of affliction. If you’ve had COPD, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and other lung problems in the past, there’s a higher risk you may develop active infections faster.
- Secondhand Smoke: The dangers of secondhand smoke cannot be underestimated. It can cause the same dangers as smoking cigarettes to non-smokers and compromise their bodies enough for TB bacteria to infect them.
More Reasons to Stop Smoking Today
Smoking and tuberculosis are greatly correlated, and weakening and damaging your lungs with the chemicals in cigarette smoke increases the risk of contracting this highly infectious disease.
By stopping smoking, you give yourself and anyone around you the best chance of never contracting the disease. Quitting the ciggies will also give you a fuller, disease-free, and healthier life overall.
We understand that quitting smoking can be extremely challenging, but we can help.
Smokefree Clinic gives you access to many medically reviewed and trustworthy resources that can inform and aid you in your path to wellness, so have a look around!
If you’re ready to get started, Smokefree can connect you to friendly Australian healthcare professionals who excel in helping patients quit smoking for good.