Tuberculosis, also known as TB, is a bacterial infection caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium. While tuberculosis mainly affects the lungs, it can also attack other parts of the body including:

  • Kidney
  • Spine
  • Brain
  • Joints and bones
  • Muscles

There are two classifications of tuberculosis: latent TB infection and TB disease. People with latent TB infection are not infectious. If the TB bacteria does become active in those people with latent TB infection they will then become infected with the active disease. The number of reported cases of tuberculosis, in the United States, has declined annually. Less than 10,000 cases of tuberculosis were reported in 2012.

Risk Factors of Tuberculosis

If left untreated, tuberculosis can be fatal. Tuberculosis occurs more frequently in older adults who most likely acquired the infection during a time when the condition was more common. Tuberculosis now affects about one-third of the human population and kills almost 2 million people each year. A compromised immune system increases the possibility of contracting tuberculosis. The following factors increase the risk of being infected with tuberculosis:

  • Diabetes
  • Chemotherapy treatment
  • Anti-rejection medications
  • Age
  • Malnutrition
  • Alcoholism
  • Illegal drug use
  • Prolonged contact with an infected person
  • Nationality

Travel to countries that have high rates of tuberculosis increases the risk of developing the infection. Crowded working conditions or regular contact with ill coworkers or patients can also be a source for contamination.

Causes of Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an air borne bacterial infection that is spread when an infected person, with an active tuberculosis infection, coughs, talks or sneezes. Unlike most other infections, most people infected with tuberculosis do not suffer any symptoms of the disease because the infected cells may remain dormant for many years. The bacterium is deactivated and the infection is categorized as a latent tuberculosis infection. Tuberculosis can become active later on if the immune system becomes weakened.

Symptoms of Tuberculosis

An active tuberculosis infection causes symptoms and becomes contagious two to eight weeks after infection. A cough that lasts longer than two weeks is the most common symptom of tuberculosis, but others can include:

  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Shortness of breath

Diagnosis of Tuberculosis

Doctors usually perform a series of tests in order to diagnose tuberculosis which include:

  • A tuberculin skin test, called the Mantoux test
  • Chest X-ray
  • Blood test
  • Urinalysis

The Mantoux skin test can detect the infection before symptoms are present.

Treatment of Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is usually treated with antibiotic medication that may be needed for 6 to 12 months. Preventive drug therapy may be used for latent TB infections that are not yet active. Active cases may require a variety of daily medications. Since the tuberculosis bacteria grow slowly, the long treatment must be completed in order to successfully treat the disease. Treatment may be different for people with drug-resistant infections or those who have HIV or AIDS.

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