Tuberculosis, also known as TB, is a disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis that spread via air. TB disease can spread from the infected part to other organs of the body via lymph nodes and bloodstream. TB is the condition of the lungs, and the infection is most likely to occur if you get exposed to someone with TB on a day-to-day basis. However, the bacteria stay latent after they invade the body. Thus, a small number of people infected with TB will ever have the active disease.
People exposed to TB never develop symptoms because the bacteria live in an inactive form in the body. But, when the immune system starts becoming weak, TB bacteria become active and can cause death of tissue in the organs they infect. Some of the typical tuberculosis symptoms include persistent severe cough lasting three weeks or longer, weakness or fatigue, fever, chills, and fatigue. TB disease could be fatal if the active disease left untreated.
Causes of Tuberculosis:
Tuberculosis is contagious, but easily it doesn’t catch a person. TB mainly caused by bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a slow growing and aerobic microbe. The condition spreads when a person with an active TB infection in his/her lungs coughs or sneezes and someone inhales the expelled droplets, containing TB bacteria. The TB transfers only if someone infected spends prolonged periods with a healthy person.
People with weak immune systems are at a high risk of developing active TB. For example, people suffering from HIV have compromised immune system, which makes harder for their body to control TB bacteria. It has been reported that people infected with both HIV and TB are around 20-30% more likely to develop active TB as compared to those who do not have HIV. In addition, usage of tobacco products also increases the risk of developing active TB. Around 20% of tuberculosis cases worldwide are related to smoking.
Treatment of tuberculosis:
Tuberculosis can be cured if it is timely diagnosed and the correct medication is provided. TB can be easily treated with antibiotics, which can be given to anyone, including children, infants, pregnant women and people who have a weak immune system to fight TB bacteria. The standard period of a course of TB antibiotics is about six months.
Antibiotics for tuberculosis treatment are prescribed keeping in mind the age, the overall health, the stage of TB (latent or active) and the location of infection. If a person has active TB (affecting the lungs and causing symptoms), then doctors recommend:
- A six-month course of a combination of antibiotics. It involves two medicines named Isoniazid and Rifampicin every day for six months.
- Doctor may also prescribe two additional antibiotics like Pyrazinamide and Ethambutol to be taken every day for the first two months.
- It may take several months for you to feel better, but the exact recovery time will depend on your overall health and the severity of TB.
- Within the first two weeks after taking medicines, most people are no longer infectious and they feel better. However, it is necessary to continue the medications prescribed and to complete the whole course of antibiotics.
- The effective way to ensure the eradication of TB bacteria is to take the drugs for six months. If you stop taking your antibiotics before completion of the course, or you skip a dose, then the bacteria may become resistant to antibiotics. Doing this may prove to be fatal to you and may also require a longer course of treatment.
If a person is infected with the TB bacteria and doesn’t show any active symptoms of the disease, then the condition is latent TB. However the treatment is still done to remove the bacteria before they can start their activity. This treatment is usually recommended for:
- People aged 35 years or under
- People with HIV, regardless of their age
- Healthcare workers, regardless of their age
If latent tuberculosis is drug resistant, then it is not always treated. In such case, you may be regularly monitored to check the infection if it becomes active. Experts usually recommend one of the following to treat latent TB:
Using one medicine to kill the TB bacteria and prevent active TB
Isoniazid: It is the standard treatment prescribed as a nine month course. If a person cannot take Isoniazid for nine months, then a six-month treatment program is advised.
Rifampin: It is another medication to treat latent TB. This drug is an alternative option for people who are exposed to bacteria but are resistant to Isoniazid.
How to prevent tuberculosis transmission?
If you get diagnosed with TB, you will be contagious for up to two to three weeks after starting the course of treatment. Below are some of the basic precautions that you need to follow to stop TB from spreading:
- Stay away from work, school or college until your TB treatment team advises you to return
- Always cover your mouth
- Dispose of used tissues in a sealed plastic bag
- Avoid sleeping in the room with other members of your family as you could unknowingly cough or sneeze in your sleep
Tuberculosis may be deadly if left untreated or undetected. If you ever find yourself or anyone else trapped in this disease, then rush to the doctor immediately and try to get the medical help.