Tuberculosis or TB is a contagious disease that potentially affects the lungs. The infection can spread from one body part to another, such as the brain and spine. TB is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted from one person to another via tiny droplets, which are released into the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
In the past, tuberculosis was considered as a major cause of death globally. There are two types of TB:
Latent TB: An individual can have TB bacteria in their body and never develop symptoms. This is because the immune system fights off those germs and prevents them from spreading. The infection is still alive in the body and it is possible that one day it may become active and cause infection. For instance, if a person has primary infections in the past years, the risk of re-activation of the infection is higher. A person may never experience any signs and symptoms and be totally unaware that they have the infection. This is a non-contagious condition. However, an individual with latent TB still requires treatment.
Active TB: Active TB means the bacteria that cause TB to multiply can make the individual infected. This can be contagious and it can be spread from the infected person to a healthy person. Most of the adult cases of active TB are due to reactivation of a latent TB infection. Risk of developing active TB is higher in the following:
Latent TB usually does not develop any symptoms. Signs and symptoms of active TB are:
Tuberculosis not only infects the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body, including the kidneys, spine, or brain. When TB occurs outside the lungs, signs and symptoms of TB may vary depending on the organs involved. For example, TB in the kidneys might cause blood in the urine and tuberculosis of the spine may give back pain.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection which is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The infection spreads from person to person through microscopic droplets released into the air. This can happen when an individual infected with tuberculosis coughs, speaks, sneezes, spits, or laughs. A healthy person may come in contact with those tiny droplets and become infected.
There are two standard tests for tuberculosis, but these tests do not specify whether it is latent TB or active TB:
Skin Test – This test is also known as the Mantoux tuberculin skin test. A health care technician or a doctor injects a small amount of fluid into the skin of the lower arm. After 2 or 3 days, the doctor will check for any swelling in that area to determine the results. Positive results may indicate that the person has been infected with tuberculosis bacteria. But the results can be false positive.
Blood Test – These tests are called interferon-gamma release assays or IGRAs. The IGRA test measures the body’s immune response to the TB bacteria. It is usually used to detect latent TB.
If anyone has a positive skin or blood test, the doctor will probably recommend a chest X-ray or CT scan to monitor the changes in the lungs. They also might test for TB bacteria in the sputum that comes up when the person coughs. These results will help to diagnose latent or active TB.
Note: Always consult a physician before taking any test.
Tuberculosis can be fatal if left untreated. Untreated TB infection generally affects the lungs the most, but it can also spread to other parts of your body through the bloodstream. Some of the known complications of tuberculosis include:
If someone tests positive for latent TB infection, the doctor may advise taking proper medications to reduce your risk of developing it into active tuberculosis. If a person with latent TB infection prevents it from becoming active, it will not be transmittable to anyone else. However, if someone acquires active TB, they need to be very careful as it can spread to others. It usually takes a few weeks of treatment with TB medications before it can become non-contagious.
Follow these tips to help keep yourself and your loved ones from getting infected:
Stay Home – Do not go to work or school or do not share the room with other people, especially during the first few weeks of treatment for active tuberculosis.
Ventilate the Room – Tuberculosis bacteria spread more easily in small packed spaces where air doesn’t move. Therefore, the ventilation of the room is mandatory.
Cover the Mouth While Cough or Sneeze – Use a tissue to cover the mouth while laughing, sneezing or coughing. Discard the tissue after use.
Wear a Mask – Wearing a surgical mask when around other people during the first three weeks of treatment may help to reduce the risk of transmission.
The BCG (stands for Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) vaccine protects against tuberculosis or TB.
(Always consult your doctor before getting any diagnostic test or vaccination)
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