Tuberculosis- A comprehensive guide

Tuberculosis- A comprehensive guide

We are fortunate enough to be living in an era where medical advancements have cures for almost all of the diseases and health conditions. Today, the lifespan of people around the world has increased generally and mortality rates have dropped.

However, with the ongoing development in the world has also caused considerable problems. The rise in the levels of pollution is one of the biggest concerns that have also affected the health of people.

Such effects of development are the reason why you might be exposed to even more dangerous diseases while the ones in the past have completely vanished. Tuberculosis is one of the health conditions that are usually seen as a ‘deadly disease of the past’ today.

You might also be assuming that such risks are not as prevalent as they were before. In fact, it is so rare that you have not heard or met anyone suffering from tuberculosis. So, is it true that no one is likely to get it now?

That is the common assumption of the majority but it is not true. According to a study on recent cases of tuberculosis, about 50 babies in every other hospital in the United States get exposed to tuberculosis. In addition, the study highlighted cases of workers in medical centers having TB positive tests.

Tuberculosis might not be as common as it used to be but there are about 1.7 million people which is a quarter of the world’s population that has dormant tuberculosis infection and they are not even aware of it.

It is also true that tuberculosis can be treated nowadays unlike in earlier times. For example, tuberculosis was one of the biggest reasons behind death in the United States in the 20th century.

Fortunately, it can be treated with some precautions and antibiotics in the advanced medicine era. However, when talking about taking antibiotics, it does not mean you have to take them once a day for one week.

The treatment and antibiotic course of tuberculosis can take up to six to eight months even if the infection is latent. Additionally, there are no guarantees and people with active tuberculosis have to stay confined to specific spaces since tuberculosis infections are contagious.

When diagnosed at a later stage, the person can have even more complications and might a lot of further treatment. Secondly, latent tuberculosis is hard to diagnose since the person shows no symptoms.

What is TB?

TB is usually the medical abbreviation used by both doctors and common people for tuberculosis. It is one of the most harmful diseases of the lungs and respiratory system along with bronchitis and lung cancer. It is infectious and can spread through the air from person to person.

It is one of the most harmful diseases of the lungs and respiratory system along with bronchitis and lung cancer. It is infectious and can spread through the air from person to person.

The bacteria named Mycobacterium tuberculosis or tubercle bacillus bacteria is microbe responsible for the infectious attack of TB on a person. The most common form of TB is pulmonary tuberculosis that affects the lungs.

You are most likely to get exposed to pulmonary TB since it is highly contagious and you can catch it even when a patient is coughing at a distance.

While it is primarily known as a lung disease, tuberculosis can also infect others parts and organs of the body including the brain, kidney, and spine. Pulmonary tuberculosis often spreads to other parts when not treated properly.

Generally, there are two types of tuberculosis infections- latent tuberculosis and active tuberculosis. The main difference between the two is that a person with latent tuberculosis may not be getting the same health complications or symptoms as someone with active TB.

Having inactive tuberculosis means that you have the tubercle bacillus bacteria living in your body but it is not causing any harm. Therefore, you get no symptoms and it is not infectious in any way. Most of the people with latent TB do not even realize they have it.

People with inactive TB do not spread the bacteria to others but there is no way to ensure that their TB will remain like that forever. It does not take long for latent tuberculosis to turn into active TB. This is why TB tests are still suggested by doctors today.

If you know that you have been exposed to TB in any way or if you have recently met someone with active TB and you get no symptoms, you should still consider getting a TB test to make sure you do not have it.

On the contrast, people with active tuberculosis show many visible symptoms of TB. Active tuberculosis is highly contagious which is why people suffering from it in the past were confined to a room or sent to remote areas. If left untreated, active TB bacteria can be deadly and result in death.

What makes active tuberculosis so contagious? TB is historically one of the most infectious diseases because the bacteria can spread through the air from one person to another.

Patients with active tuberculosis can transfer bacteria by coughing, sneezing, laughing, yawning or even plain talking and if someone is sitting by their side, he/she will probably catch the bacteria and develop tuberculosis.

The conventional TB, its symptoms, and development might change if you are diagnosed with military tuberculosis which happens when the TB-causing bacteria spread to other areas of the body through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream.

What are the Symptoms of TB?

Tuberculosis remains to be one of the biggest health concerns because its latent form shows no physical symptoms. Someone with latent TB will only show one sign of the infection which is positive TB blood test or tuberculin skin test.

On the other hand, active TB can have a lot of symptoms that are similar to a lung infection. Sometimes, this is the cause of people taking TB symptoms as a common infection and using over the counter medicines to treat it.

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The symptoms of active tuberculosis include:

  • Constant fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • A persistent cough (for at least 2-3 weeks)
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing out sputum (mucus from inside the lungs)
  • Coughing out blood
  • Pain in the chest
  • Night Sweats
  • Fever
  • Sore throat

 

If you happen to have disseminated tuberculosis, the symptoms of the infection can vary in accordance with what part or organ of the body is affected. For example, a person with tuberculosis of the kidney will experience hematuria or blood in the urine.

Similarly, if you are having tuberculosis of the spine, you will have a lot of backaches and difficulty in doing common movements such as sitting up, walking, or even changing sides in bed.

How can TB be treated?

The first thing you might want to do is go for a skin or blood test if you are sure that you have been exposed to the tuberculosis bacteria even if you are seeing no symptoms of the infection. Taking medication for latent TB can effectively get rid of the bacteria from your blood.

You will likely have to take antibiotics for the complete treatment of both active and inactive tuberculosis for about 6-8 months along with changing some habits. For example, it is a good idea to put down the cigarette if you have been diagnosed with TB.

The medicines that you will get can vary in accordance with age, immunity, type of infection, areas affected, possible antibiotic resistance, and overall health. You will get several including both oral and injections.

TB is certainly a curable disease if you are willing to stick to the guidelines of your doctor and ready to make some changes. According to the World Health Organization, TB treatments have helped save 49 million lives between the years of 2011 to 2015.

SOURCES: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC164219/
http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/85888/1/9789241505970_eng.pdf
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK344404/

 

 

 

 

The author is a Medical Microbiologist and a healthcare writer. She is a post-graduate of Medical Microbiology and Immunology. She covers all content on health and wellness including weight loss, nutrition, and general health.

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