Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious infection that usually attacks your lungs. Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a bacterium called (Mycobacterium tuberculosis). The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick.
Types of tuberculosis:
About one-third of the world’s population has latent TB, which means people have been infected by TB bacteria but are not (yet) ill with the disease and cannot transmit the disease. They have germs in their body, but the immune system keeps them from spreading. They do not have any symptoms and are not contagious. But the infection is still alive and can one day become active. If they have HIV or had an infection in the past 2 years, or their chest X-ray is unusual, or immune system is weakened there may be the chance for reactivation of the bacteria and the doctor will give you medications to prevent active TB.
People infected with TB bacteria have a lifetime risk of falling ill with TB of 10%. However, persons with compromised immune systems, such as people living with HIV, malnutrition, or diabetes, or people who use tobacco, have a much higher risk of falling ill.
The Mycobacterium tuberculosis multiplies and makes you sick. The patients can spread the disease to others. Ninety percent of active cases in adults come from a latent TB infection.
Mycobacteria can be drug-resistant. Some medicine can not work properly so your doctor will recommend any new and effective drug.
Symptoms of tuberculosis:
Signs of active TB disease include:
- A cough that lasts more than 3 weeks
- Chest pain
- Coughing blood
- Feeling tired all the time
- Night sweat
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor get tested. Do have medical help right away if you have chest pain or three of the following symptoms.
How to diagnose tuberculosis?
A doctor will ask about any symptoms and the person’s medical history. They will also perform a physical examination, which involves listening to the lungs and checking for swelling in the lymph nodes.
Some tests can also show whether TB bacteria are present:
- the TB skin test
- the TB blood test
- Chest X-ray
- Sputum test
- CT scene of the chest
The TB skin test
Your doctor can use a (tuberculin) purified protein derivative (PPD) skin test to determine if you’re infected with the TB bacteria.
For this test, your doctor will inject 0.1 milliliters of PPD under the top layer of your skin. After 48 to 72 hours you must return to your doctor’s office to have the results read. If there is a swelling on your skin over 5 millimeters (mm) in size where the PPD was injected, you may be TB-positive. This test will tell you whether you have a TB infection. It doesn’t tell you whether you have active TB disease or latent.
Reactions between 5 to 15 mm in size can be considered positive depending on risk factors, health, and medical history. All reactions over 15 mm are considered positive regardless of risk factors.
However, the test isn’t perfect. Some people don’t respond to the test even if they have TB, and others respond to the test and don’t have TB. People who’ve recently received the TB vaccine may test positive but may not have TB infection.
The TB blood test
Your doctor can use a blood test to follow up on TB skin results. The blood test may also be preferred over the skin test with certain health conditions or for specific groups of people. The two TB blood tests currently approved in the United States are Quantiferon and T-Spot. Blood test results are reported as positive, negative, or indeterminate. Like the skin test, the blood test can’t indicate whether or not you have active TB disease.
If your skin test or blood test is positive, you will likely be sent for a chest X-ray, which looks for certain small spots in your lungs. These spots are a sign of TB infection and indicate that your body is trying to isolate the TB bacteria. If your chest X-ray is negative, you likely have latent TB. It is also possible your test results were incorrect and other testing may be necessary.
If the test indicates you have active TB disease, you will begin treatment for active TB. Otherwise, you will likely need to be treated for latent TB to prevent the bacteria from reactivating and making you and others sick in the future.
Your doctor may also order tests on your sputum or mucus, extracted from deep inside your lungs, to check for TB bacteria. If your sputum tests positive, this means you can infect others with the TB bacteria and should wear a special mask until after you’ve started treatment and your sputum tests negative for TB.
CT scene of the chest
Other tests such as a CT scan of the chest, bronchoscopy, or lung biopsies may be required if other test results remain unclear.
How to treat tuberculosis?
With early detection and appropriate antibiotics, TB is treatable.
The right type of antibiotic and length of treatment will depend on:
- the person’s age and overall health
- whether they have latent or active TB
- the location of the infection
- whether the strain of TB is drug resistant
Treatment for latent TB can vary. It may involve taking an antibiotic once a week for 12 weeks or every day for 9 months.
Treatment for active TB may involve taking several drugs for 6–9 months. When a person has a drug resistant strain of TB, the treatment will be more complex.
It is essential to complete the full course of treatment, even if symptoms go away. If a person stops taking their medication early, some bacteria can survive and become resistant to antibiotics. In this case, the person may go on to develop drug resistant TB.
Depending on the parts of the body that TB affects, a doctor may also prescribe corticosteroids.
- getting a diagnosis and treatment early
- staying away from other people until there is no longer a risk of infection
- wearing a mask, covering the mouth, and ventilating rooms
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