What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis, commonly known as TB, is a bacterial infection that can spread through the lymph nodes and bloodstream to any organ in your body. TB is most often found in the lungs, but it can also attack any part of the body, including the glands, bones and nervous system.
For those who are exposed to TB never develop symptoms because the bacteria can live in an inactive form in the body. But if the immune system weakens, such as in people with HIV or elderly adults, TB bacteria can become active. In their active state, TB bacteria cause death of tissue in the organs they infect. Active TB disease can be fatal if left untreated.
What are some signs and symptoms of Tuberculosis?
TB usually develop slowly. In some cases the infection doesn’t cause any symptoms, which is known as Latent TB. It’s called Active TB if you have symptoms.
- Latent TB. In this condition, you have a TB infection, but the bacteria remain in your body in an inactive state and cause no symptoms. Latent TB, also called inactive TB or TB infection, isn’t contagious. It can turn into active TB, so treatment is important for the person with latent TB and to help control the spread of TB. An estimated 2 billion people have latent TB.
- Active TB. This condition makes you sick and can spread to others. It can occur in the first few weeks after infection with the TB bacteria, or it might occur years later.
Signs and symptoms of active TB include:
- Coughing that lasts three or more weeks;
- Coughing up blood;
- Chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing;
- Unexplained weight loss;
- Night sweats;
- Loss of appetite.
What should I do?
If you think you have been exposed to someone with TB disease, you are recommended to contact your doctor or local health department to carry out a TB skin test or a special TB blood test. Don’t forget to let your doctor know when you contacted with the person who has TB disease.
When should I seek medical care?
You should contact your doctor if you have a fever, unexplained weight loss, drenching night sweats or a persistent cough. These are often signs of TB, but they can also result from other medical problems. Your doctor can perform tests to help determine the cause.
How I should avoid?
To prevent TB, you should:
- Use vaccinations.
In countries where tuberculosis is more common, infants often are vaccinated with bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine because it can prevent severe tuberculosis in children.
However, the BCG vaccine isn’t recommended for general use in the United States because it isn’t very effective in adults and the risk of getting TB is low in the U.S. Dozens of new TB vaccines are in various stages of development and testing.
- NOT spend long periods of time in stuffy, enclosed rooms with anyone who has active TB until that person has been treated for at least 2 weeks.
- Use protective measures, such as face masks, if you work in a facility that cares for people who have untreated TB.
- Help and encourage the person to follow treatment instructions if you live with someone who has active TB.
If you have active TB, keep your germs to yourself. It generally takes a few weeks of treatment with TB medications before you’re not contagious anymore. Follow these tips to help keep your friends and family from getting sick:
- Follow your entire course of medication: this is the most important as if you stop treatment early or skip doses, TB bacteria have a chance to develop mutations that allow them to survive the most potent TB drugs. The resulting drug-resistant strains are much more deadly and difficult to treat.
- Stay home. Don’t go to work or school or sleep in a room with other people during the first few weeks of treatment for active tuberculosis.
- Ventilate the room. Tuberculosis germs spread more easily in small closed spaces where air doesn’t move. If it’s not too cold outdoors, open the windows and use a fan to blow indoor air outside.
- Cover your mouth. Use a tissue to cover your mouth anytime you laugh, sneeze or cough. Put the dirty tissue in a bag, seal it and throw it away.
- Wear a mask. Wearing a surgical mask when you’re around other people during the first three weeks of treatment may help lessen the risk of transmission.
Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017
Understanding Tuberculosis – the Basics. http://www.webmd.com/lung/understanding-tuberculosis-basics. Accessed August 20, 2016.
Tuberculosis - Symptoms and Causes http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tuberculosis/symptoms-causes/dxc-20188557. Accessed August 20, 2016.
Understanding Tuberculosis – Diagnosis and Treatment. http://www.webmd.com/lung/understanding-tuberculosis-treatment. Accessed August 20, 2016.