When Louise became ill with a chest infection at the beginning of 2009, she wasn’t 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 didn’t 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,” says Louise.
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. A chest x-ray showed some ‘abnormal findings’, and Louise was immediately admitted to hospital. She then spent two weeks in isolation, and was diagnosed with TB.
Louise was prescribed TB medication and allowed to go home, and within two to three weeks, she 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.”
After completing her treatment and being cured of TB, Louise was told that her lungs were scarred as a result of the length of time that she’d spent infected, and 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 didn’t end with her successful treatment, as tests on her family, friends and colleagues came back with many positive results including her mother, father and sister, who also had to be treated.
Louise is now in good health and has a positive outlook for the future, but the emotional impact of TB remains strong: “I guess TB still has a stigma attached to it, given other people’s reactions. 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!”