Saturday, March 24, 2012
Do Mention It
Author: Dr. Esther Kawira
Medical Director for the Shirati Health Education and Development Foundation (SHED) and Roche Health Center.
Do Mention It
There are some things the doctor would like to assume the patient would mention up front. For instance:
"I am pregnant". Or,
"I was already diagnosed with HIV and I am taking ARV drugs".
If these things come out late in the consultation, they change everything.
A few months ago, I received a young woman with her sick child, a girl of about 10 months of age. The child had been sick with a cough and fever, plus some weight loss and constant fretfulness. The mother told me up front that she herself had HIV, and was taking ARV drugs. To me, the mother appeared to be doing well, and looked healthy.
My fear for the child was allayed when she tested negative for HIV. I put the child on antibiotics for pneumonia. When I saw her again a week later, she was no better. In fact, her weight had shrunk by another kilo. The child looked emaciated and weak, and was still coughing and febrile. I started thinking of TB.
When an infant or child has TB, the doctor should always look for the sick adult in their environment who infected them. So I asked the mother if anyone at home had been coughing also, or had been treated for TB.
"Oh yes", she responded, "I had TB, but I took drugs and now I am better". With further questioning about the time frame, it became obvious that the mother had infected her infant daughter before starting TB treatment herself. The child was now suffering from this treatable and curable condition.
That very day the child started the TB drug. One week later, she was no longer having fever, her fretfulness had gone away, and she was sleeping soundly at night. Over the succeeding weeks her cough went away, and she started gaining weight. Now about four months into the six month treatment, she looks and acts like a healthy one year old. The young mother, also doing well on ARV drugs, will likely survive to raise this child to adulthood.
Information about the author: Dr. Esther Kawira, Medical Director and founding member of the SHED Foundation, is a Diplomat of the American Board of Family Medicine and has a faculty appointment at the University of Southern California, School of Medicine (USC). She has worked in the Shirati region of Tanzania for over 20 years.