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24th March 2021

A life after tuberculosis

Five years ago, British local election candidate Samara Barnes was astonished to learn that her persistent cough was tuberculosis (TB). To mark World TB Day, Samara shares her story with This Is MedTech.

“I had had a cough for a long time,” Samara tells This Is MedTech. “It was only when friends commented on how much I was coughing on a trip to Edinburgh in Scotland, and I realised I couldn’t quite keep up with them on walks, that I knew something wasn’t quite right.”

Samara visited her doctor to investigate. “They went through a couple of rounds of antibiotics, assuming it was a chest infection, and then they put me on an inhaler, thinking it was asthma. It was only when they sent me for an X ray that they noticed that they were looking at something quite different,” she explains.

Chest X-rays are used to look for changes in the lungs that are suggestive of TB. As a result of Samara’s X-ray, she was sent for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which revealed what looked like TB lesions, and Samara was diagnosed with pulmonary TB (the most common type of Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection, affecting the lungs).

“It never crossed my mind that a cough could be TB,” Samara says. “There was no information anywhere; nothing to make you think along those lines.”

But Samara’s diagnosis enabled her to start antibiotics quickly, while sputum samples were sent off for laboratory testing to confirm it was active TB. Blood tests and chest X-rays were also offered to Samara’s contacts, including family, colleagues, university contacts and service users at the homeless accommodation where she was working at the time. “Luckily I was the only one,” Samara recalls.

“The treatment was tough but it was absolutely worth it,” Samara continues, and during her recovery she made a pact with herself to get healthy. “I took up running and exercising,” she recalls. Samara not only competed in a UK breakfast television show’s ‘Tough Mums’ obstacle challenge, to raise awareness for TB Alert (the UK TB charity that filled the information void that she found surrounded TB), but also completed the UK’s Yorkshire 3 Peaks walking challenge for charity, had her second child and began training for a half marathon.

Today, Samara continues her work at the UK’s biggest children’s charity as well as running multiple community projects and working as a peer supporter for TB Alert. Fitting with her commitment to community work she is also standing as a candidate in England’s upcoming county council elections.

“People think TB doesn’t exist anymore but it is more common than we think,” Samara reflects. Some 52 862 cases of tuberculosis TB were reported in the European Union and European Economic Area in 2018, according to the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.* “Increased awareness, information in multiple languages and early diagnosis are crucial,” Samara suggests. “But there is definitely a life after TB!”

* WHO Regional Office for Europe/European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Tuberculosis surveillance and monitoring in Europe 2019 – 2017 data. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2019