What is TB?
According to the Center for Disease Control, TB is a disease caused by a bacterium that typically affects the lungs. Also known as tuberculosis, TB can attack other organs such as the kidneys, the spine, and the brain. Left untreated, TB can be fatal. But, the disease is curable.
History of TB:
TB was once the leading cause of death in the U.S. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the disease became an epidemic. TB still causes an estimated 1.5 million deaths annually. While reported cases of TB are at a record low, the disease remains a worldwide health concern today, especially in undeveloped countries.
Symptoms of TB:
• A persistent cough lasting for more than a few weeks.
• Weight loss.
• Weakness and/or fatigue.
• Chest pain.
• Coughing up blood.
• Lack of appetite.
• Night sweats.
What is the difference between latent and active TB?
With latent tuberculosis, you have the TB infection in your body, but you have no symptoms. The disease remains inactive and is not contagious. However, latent TB must be treated. Approximately 1/3 of the world’s population has latent tuberculosis!
In the case of active tuberculosis, you will suffer from symptoms, you will feel sick, and you are also contagious.
Is tuberculosis contagious?
Yes, active tuberculosis can quickly and easily spread through air particles from an infected person who is coughing or sneezing, for instance, to others. This is why it’s not uncommon to hear of TB outbreaks occurring after an infected individual uses mass transportation or travels by plane. Despite this, experts say that it’s not that easy to catch TB.
How is TB diagnosed?
According to the Mayo Clinic:
• Physical Exam: Your doctor will check your lymph nodes and listen to your lungs while breathing to help determine if tuberculosis might be present.
• Skin Test: The most common test for TB. A reaction on your skin in the area you’re tested indicates the possibility of having TB. False-negative results may occur, so follow-up tests usually confirm a diagnosis.
• Blood Test: Typically used to rule out or confirm latent or active TB after skin test.
• Chest X-Ray: Confirms findings of a skin test.
• Sputum Test: This method, used after an x-ray, involves testing the sputum, mucus you bring up while coughing, for the TB bacterium.
Risk factors for catching TB:
Anyone with a compromised immune system has a greater chance of catching TB if exposed. Examples include:
• Being infected with HIV.
• Having other chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, which affect the body’s ability to fight infection.
• Alcohol or tobacco use.
• Improper treatment of tuberculosis in the past.
Treatments for TB:
The standard treatment is 6 months of antibiotics. This course of treatment can last up to 2 years if the medications stop working, which is known as drug resistance.
• Vitamin A may help to fight TB by boosting the immune system, according to this article.
• TB can be difficult to treat because it is often drug resistant. This means scientists need to keep finding new drugs for the treatment of this disease. Medications known as multiple-target drugs have shown signs of being good treatment options. See this article for more details.
• The TB Alliance is planning to launch a study of a combination of TB drugs used as a “cocktail” to treat the disease. The hope is this new treatment option will alleviate the occurrence of drug resistance with TB.
For more information, visit www.annals.org or www.nim.nih.gov/medlineplus.
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