HIV 101: Tuberculosis and HIV, a Killer Combination

By Johanna Harvey | March 24, 2014

This World Tuberculosis (TB) Day (March 24), we’re examining the link between HIV and TB infections. This World Tuberculosis (TB) Day (March 24), we’re examining the link between HIV and TB infections

Maria Furrer/Kenya

Today, March 24, is World TB Day. We’re examining the link between HIV and tuberculosis (TB) infections and how, by fighting these diseases together, we can create a generation free of HIV and TB!

HIV and tuberculosis (TB) are two diseases that are intrinsically linked. In fact, one third of the more than 35 million people currently living with HIV are also infected with TB. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HIV/AIDS and TB are so closely connected that the term “co-epidemic” or “dual epidemic” is often used to describe their relationship.

HIV affects the immune system and increases the likelihood of people acquiring a new TB infection. In high-burden countries, people with HIV/AIDS are 20 times more likely to contract TB than those not suffering from HIV/AIDS, and reciprocally, TB bacteria can hasten the progression of an HIV infection, causing patients to become ill more rapidly. Importantly, if undiagnosed or untreated, TB in HIV-positive individuals is almost always fatal.

TB is an airborne illness that usually affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, the kidneys, or the spine. It can cause serious health problems, including death, if left untreated. HIV-positive children are especially susceptible to TB infections because their immune systems are already compromised.  Globally, 3.2 million children are currently living with HIV and according to WHO, TB co-infection rates can range anywhere from 10 percent to 60 percent, depending on where the child lives. 

“Because both HIV and TB have high prevalence rates in resource-limited settings, like sub-Saharan Africa, children who come to health clinics to be screened for TB should also be tested for HIV,” said Jeffrey Safrit, Ph.D., director of clinical & basic research at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). “By integrating our treatment approaches, we can reduce the number times patients have to come to the clinic and help ensure that TB infections can be treated, especially for people living with HIV, including children, who are much more vulnerable to infection.”

In the last 15 years alone, the number of new TB cases has more than doubled in countries where the number of HIV infections is also high. In Africa, TB is the leading cause of illness and death among HIV-positive people, killing almost half of all AIDS patients.

But the good news is that when we test for and treat both diseases together we can improve health outcomes and prevent infections from spreading. That’s why EGPAF integrates TB and HIV services in many of our country programs. By providing both HIV and TB screening, treatment, and counseling we can be more successful in ending both epidemics.

Check out WHO’s FAQ to learn more about HIV and TB co-infections.

Creating a healthy and thriving HIV-free generation is our priority. Together, we must ensure that we do everything in our power to also keep that generation HIV and TB free.

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