Tuberculosis -- or TB, as it’s commonly called- is a contagious infection that usually attacks your lungs. It can spread to other parts of your body, like your brain and spine. A type of bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes it.
There are two forms of the disease:
Latent TB: You have the germs in your body, but your immune system stops them from spreading. That means you don’t have any symptoms and you’re not contagious. But the infection is still alive in your body and can one day become active. If you’re at high risk for re-activation -- for instance, you have HIV, your primary infection was in the past 2 years, your chest X-ray is abnormal, or your immune system is compromised --- your doctor will treat you with antibiotics to lower the risk for developing active TB.
Active TB: This means the germs multiply and can make you sick. You can spread the disease to others. Ninety percent of adult cases of active TB are from the reactivation of a latent TB infection.
Tuberculosis Signs and Symptoms:
There aren’t any for latent TB. You’ll need to get a skin or blood test to find out whether you have it.
There are usually signs if you have active TB disease. They include:
- A cough that lasts more than 3 weeks
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Feeling tired all the time
- Night sweats
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
During a latent stage, TB has no symptoms. When TB is active TB, the cough, fever, and other symptoms can appear.
While TB usually affects the lungs, it can also affect other parts of the body, and the symptoms will vary accordingly.
Without treatment, TB can spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream:
- The bones: There may be spinal pain and joint destruction.
- The brain: It can lead to mengitis.
- The liver and kidneys: It can impair the waste filtration functions and lead to blood in the urine.
- The heart: It can impair the heart's ability to pump blood, resulting in cardiac tamponade, a condition that can be fatal.
Diagnosis: To check for TB, a doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to the lungs and check for swelling in the lymph nodes. They will also ask about symptoms and medical history as well as assessing the individual's risk of exposure to TB.
The most common diagnostic test for TB is a skin test where a small injection of PPD tuberculin, an extract of the TB bacterium, is made just below the inside forearm.
Treatment: The majority of TB cases can be cured when the right medication is available and administered correctly. The precise type and length of antibiotic treatment depend on a person's age, overall health, potential resistance to drugs, whether the TB is latent or active, and the location of infection (i.e., the lungs, brain, kidneys).
People with latent TB may need just one kind of TB antibiotics, whereas people with active TB (particularly MDR-TB) will often require a prescription of multiple drugs.
Antibiotics are usually required to be taken for a relatively long time. The standard length of time for a course of TB antibiotics is about 6 months.
TB medication can be toxic to the liver, and although side effects are uncommon, when they do occur, they can be quite serious. Potential side effects should be reported to a doctor and include:
- Dark urine
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
Extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR TB) is resistant to some first- and second-line antibiotics. It is resistant to the most powerful TB drugs and is hard to treat. This makes it a serious risk for people with HIV and other conditions that weaken the immune system.
Directly observed therapy (DOT) may be recommended. This involves a healthcare worker administering the TB medication to ensure that the course of treatment is completed.
Journal of Infectious Diseases and Diagnosis
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