Monday, April 15, 2024

What is tuberculosis (TB)?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It primarily affects the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body, such as the kidneys, spine, and brain. TB is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide and is a major global health concern.

TB is typically spread through the air when an infected person with active TB disease coughs, sneezes, or speaks, releasing infectious respiratory droplets that can be inhaled by others. However, not everyone exposed to TB bacteria becomes infected, as the immune system can often control the infection and prevent disease from developing. In some cases, the bacteria can remain dormant (latent TB infection) without causing symptoms or spreading to others.

There are two main forms of TB:

  1. Latent TB infection: In latent TB infection, the TB bacteria are present in the body but are inactive and do not cause symptoms. People with latent TB infection are not contagious and cannot spread the bacteria to others. However, latent TB infection can progress to active TB disease if the immune system becomes weakened, allowing the bacteria to multiply and cause symptoms.

  2. Active TB disease: In active TB disease, the TB bacteria multiply and cause symptoms. Active TB disease can affect the lungs (pulmonary TB) or other parts of the body (extrapulmonary TB). Common symptoms of active pulmonary TB include a persistent cough, chest pain, coughing up blood or sputum, fatigue, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. Extrapulmonary TB can cause symptoms depending on the site of infection, such as back pain and neurological symptoms in spinal TB, or urinary symptoms in renal TB.

TB is diagnosed through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests, including tuberculin skin tests, interferon-gamma release assays (IGRAs), chest X-rays, and sputum tests to detect the presence of TB bacteria.

Treatment for TB typically involves a course of antibiotics taken for several months to kill the bacteria and prevent the development of drug-resistant strains. The most commonly used antibiotics for TB treatment include isoniazid, rifampin, ethambutol, and pyrazinamide. Directly observed therapy (DOT) may be recommended to ensure that patients adhere to their treatment regimen and complete the full course of antibiotics.

Preventive measures for TB include vaccination with the bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine in areas where TB is endemic, screening and treatment of latent TB infection in high-risk populations, infection control measures to prevent transmission in healthcare settings, and public health interventions to address social determinants of health and reduce TB transmission.


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