Despite giving up smoking and a course of antibiotics, Louise’s chest infection did not clear. She went to her GP many times with an ongoing cough, weight loss, sweats and a general feeling of tiredness – classic symptoms of TB. Yet it took a visit to A&E, after coughing up blood, before Louise was diagnosed with infectious TB.
When Louise became ill with a chest infection at the beginning of 2009, she was not particularly concerned. It was not unusual for her to have this condition, which she assumed was a consequence of smoking. However, this time the infection did not respond to the antibiotics that she was prescribed.
Despite giving up smoking, Louise returned to her GP many times that year with unexplained symptoms, including a cough that was not getting better, weight loss, sweats and a general feeling of tiredness and weakness – classic symptoms of TB. Louise’s doctor prescribed inhalers, antibiotics and painkillers, but her condition did not get any better.
‘I became more introverted and isolated. Any exercise or movement left me exhausted, so I stayed at home while I wasn’t at work. I was too tired to stand for even short periods of time.’
As an accountant, Louise was able to carry on with her work for some time, as she could do her job while sitting at her desk. Looking back, though, she reflects, ‘I think I was in denial about how ill I actually was. I lost a lot of weight and was never hungry. In December 2009 I remember coughing up blood and thinking I had cut my mouth.’
When Louise coughed up more blood the following week she became worried, and went to A&E that evening. Whilst there she received a chest x-ray, which she was told showed some ‘abnormal findings’. Louise was immediately admitted to hospital, and put into isolation the very next day with suspected TB. She remained there for two weeks, though she did not truly believe that she could be infected. However the three sputum samples she provided came back positive.
Having received a positive diagnosis, Louise was prescribed TB medication and allowed to go home. Within 2-3 weeks of taking her medication, Louise noticed her condition begin to improve. ‘My strength started to increase day by day, I was allowed to return to work and my appetite returned with a vengeance. I was lucky that the only side effect the tablets caused was acne. I obviously didn’t want acne, but there is NO choice between having spots and feeling as ill as I did!’
After completing her treatment and being cured of TB, Louise was advised that her lungs were scarred as a result of the length of time that she spent infected. She was told that her lungs would require careful monitoring in the future. ‘My biggest challenge now is to maintain a healthy lifestyle so that my immune system can fight off any future infections and I can live a normal, active life.’
However, Louise’s TB journey did not end with her successful treatment, as precautionary tests on her family, friends and colleagues came back with many positive results including her mother, father and sister. Louise explained that TB continued to be a big part of her life whilst the people she had infected were treated. The majority of them required treatment for latent TB, though her sister was treated for active TB having gone on to develop it. Louise is now in good health and has a positive outlook for the future, but the emotional impact of TB remains strong:
‘I have suffered terrible feelings of guilt for the people I infected. I have also been subject to weird reactions from people I know and love, when they were informed of the nature of my illness. I guess TB still has a stigma attached to it. My consultant told me at the time of diagnosis that TB brings out “the hysterical” in people and I now know that he was telling the truth!’