Tuberculosis (TB) is a potentially serious infectious disease that mainly affects your lungs. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis are spread from one person to another through tiny droplets released into the air via coughs and sneezes.
Once rare in developed countries, tuberculosis infections began increasing in 1985, partly because of the emergence of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV weakens a person’s immune system to the point that it can’t fight the TB germs. Stronger control programs enabled countries like the United States to decrease the number of TB cases since 1993, but it continues to remain a concern across the globe.
Many strains of tuberculosis resist the drugs most used to treat the disease. People with active tuberculosis must take several types of medications for many months to eradicate the infection and prevent development of antibiotic resistance.
Although your body may harbour the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, your immune system usually can prevent you from becoming sick. According to information released by the Mayo Clinic, doctors make a distinction between:
- 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 in general. 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
- Unintentional weight loss
- Night sweats
- Loss of appetite
Tuberculosis can also affect other parts of your body, including your kidneys, spine or brain. When TB occurs outside your lungs, signs and symptoms vary according to the organs involved. For example, tuberculosis of the spine may give you back pain, and tuberculosis in your kidneys might cause blood in your urine.
See 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.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people who have an increased risk of tuberculosis be screened for latent TB infection. This recommendation includes:
- People with HIV/AIDS
- IV drug users
- Those in contact with infected individuals
- Health care workers who treat people with a high risk of TB
According to the Mayo Clinic, tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that spread from person to person through microscopic droplets released into the air. This can happen when someone with the untreated, active form of tuberculosis coughs, speaks, sneezes, spits, laughs or sings.
Although tuberculosis is contagious, it’s not easy to catch. You’re much more likely to get tuberculosis from someone you live with or work with than from a stranger. Most people with active TB who’ve had appropriate drug treatment for at least two weeks are no longer contagious.
HIV and TB
Since the 1980s, the number of cases of tuberculosis has increased dramatically because of the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Infection with HIV suppresses the immune system, making it difficult for the body to control TB bacteria. As a result, people with HIV are much more likely to get TB and to progress from latent to active disease, than people who aren’t HIV positive.
Another reason tuberculosis remains a major killer is the increase in drug-resistant strains of the bacterium. Since the first antibiotics were used to fight tuberculosis 60 years ago, some TB germs have developed the ability to survive, and that ability gets passed on to their descendants.
Drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis emerge when an antibiotic fails to kill all of the bacteria it targets. The surviving bacteria become resistant to that particular drug and frequently other antibiotics as well. Some TB bacteria have developed resistance to the most commonly used treatments, such as isoniazid and rifampin.
Some strains of TB have also developed resistance to drugs less commonly used in TB treatment, such as the antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones, and injectable medications including amikacin, kanamycin and capreomycin. These medications are often used to treat infections that are resistant to the more commonly used drugs.
Even though more than 100 000 TB deaths are recorded annually, it is important to know that it is preventable and curable. That is why it’s so important to increase awareness and knowledge of this disease. We need to encourage testing and early diagnosis, to prevent these unnecessary deaths.
Blood tests and X-rays are used to detect and diagnose. If you suspect symptoms or simply want to ensure you are disease-free, please visit your nearest Durbell Clinic or consult your GP. Every TB death is avoidable, so there is no excuse for neglect. Prevention is better than cure and we can help you with a variety of precautionary measures.
Let’s promote health and wellness wherever we go. One can only imagine how many lives it can save in the long run.