Tuberculosis (TB): An Overview and More

Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious airborne disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis , a bacteria that grows and divides within cells. An infection that begins in the lungs produces nodules known as lumps or gonholes, which are patches that leave dead and infected tissue. Over time, the disease can spread to other areas of the lung, and larger areas of lung tissue can die and cause tooth decay. The bacteria can also spread to other organs, including the kidneys, brain, and spine.

Antibiotics are used for tuberculosis , although treatment is not always simple and effective. Tuberculosis is generally not vaccinated in the United States and can be fatal if left untreated.


Tuberculosis has existed for tens of thousands of years. It was often called "consumption" because of its dramatic weight loss. Until the 1940s, when the antibiotic streptomycin became available, little could be done to combat the disease. Fresh air, good food, and sunshine were considered beneficial, but not always helpful. In some cases, healthcare professionals have tried to remove the diseased lung. It is believed that between the 17th and 19th centuries, one in five people died of tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis, which remains the leading cause of death worldwide, is less common in the United States than it used to be. There were 9,029 new cases of tuberculosis in the US in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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Symptoms of tuberculosis

When a healthy person is infected with tuberculosis, the cells of their immune system generally block the infection and make the tuberculosis bacteria inactive, which does not cause symptoms and is not contagious; this is known as latent tuberculosis infection. It is possible to live with latent tuberculosis without developing an active form of the disease.

However, if the immune system is weakened, the infection can intensify, leading to symptoms and contagious diseases. About 5% to 10% of infected people who do not receive treatment for latent TB infection will develop TB at some point in their lives .

Active tuberculosis is characterized by a violent cough that produces blood-tinged sputum that can last three or more weeks. Other symptoms include chest pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, chills, and night sweats.


Tuberculosis is an airborne disease that is spread primarily through airborne droplets after an infected person coughs, spits, or sneezes. The risk of infection is higher for those who spend long periods of time in confined spaces, such as an airplane, a bus, or a small living space, with infected people.

Tuberculosis is a serious health problem in many countries, especially in developing countries. This is called the "disease of poverty" because it is more prevalent in places with difficult socioeconomic conditions that lead to overcrowding, malnutrition and more. Although tuberculosis is less common in the United States, it remains a problem in hospitals, prisons, and homeless shelters where crowded conditions prevail .

People with weakened immune systems are at special risk for tuberculosis. This includes children, the elderly, people with an immunodeficiency disease or condition (such as HIV), those taking immunosuppressants (for example, while treating an autoimmune disease or after an organ transplant), and people who have undergo cancer treatment.


If you suspect you have active TB, call your doctor to schedule a TB test . The most widely used interferon gamma release test (IGRA), a blood test that measures a person's immune reactivity to M. tuberculosis .

The IGRA test has largely replaced the Mantoux skin test, which is performed by injecting a purified protein derivative of mycobacteria.   tuberculosis under the skin on the forearm. If you have an immune reaction, a tumor will appear at the injection site within two to three days. Sometimes a skin test can be done too soon after exposure to the bacteria (up to 8-10 weeks) for an immune response to develop.

If the test is positive, you will need to undergo additional tests, including a chest X-ray and culture or microscopic examination of the sputum that you are coughing up (sputum).

Watch out

Tuberculosis is treated with antibiotics . Treatment generally consists of six to eight weeks of a combination of four drugs followed by two drugs for 18 weeks, for a total of six to nine months. The exact course prescribed for you depends on your case and your general health. …

Guidelines for Discussion with a TB Doctor

Get our printable guide to your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

It is very important to follow your healthcare provider's instructions for treating tuberculosis, even after symptoms have disappeared. A full course of antibiotics is required to kill all TB bacteria. Failure to adhere to the full course of treatment can lead to treatment failure, longer-lasting illness, and antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, for which treatment options are less effective and have more side effects than first-line drugs. .

Prevent transmission

If you get a positive diagnosis of active TB, you will be asked not to go to work or school until your healthcare provider determines that you are no longer infectious (usually two to three weeks after starting treatment, but this can take a long time). up to six weeks). ) … … Until then, stay away from people you interact with regularly. Remember to clear your throat with a tissue and place it in an airtight bag.

In many cases, patients with active tuberculosis are examined and treated in special hospital isolation rooms that are under pressure to limit contact with other people.

After you are discharged from the hospital, public health officials will give you instructions on how to return to work or school. People you have come into contact with should be tested for infection.

Get the word of drug information

Although the diagnosis of active TB can be scary, the prognosis is good. Most cases of tuberculosis can be treated and cured if you follow your doctor's instructions and take your medications exactly as prescribed.

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