Tuberculosis is a highly infectious disease. Known colloquially as “TB,” the disease primarily affects the lungs. Tuberculosis, once known as “consumption”, is known to science as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. At the time of its discovery, tuberculosis killed one out of seven people who lived in the United States and Europe. Tuberculosis killed 1.7 million people in 201, and its prevalence caused the World Health Organization (WHO) to classify it as one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide.
Tuberculosis is an airborne disease. When people with lung TB cough, sneeze, or spit, they transmit tuberculosis germs to others through the air. Once another individual inhales these germs, they can become infected and carry the infection. As a result, approximately one-quarter of the world carries the TB infection. These individuals are potentially infected by TB bacteria. However, since they are not yet ill from TB, they cannot transmit it to others. Tuberculosis is prevalent in developing countries. Even so, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported over 9,000 cases in the United States in 2016. If you believe you may have contracted tuberculosis, you should visit your doctor or pulmonologist as soon as possible.
Given its airborne nature, individuals are easily susceptible to tuberculosis. The bacteria known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes TB. People contract different TB strains through infected droplets in the air. Once another person inhales the droplets, that individual can further spread tuberculosis in any of the following ways:
It is also possible for someone to be infected with the bacteria and to not experience TB symptoms. In these cases, the individual has latent or inactive TB infection. While latent tuberculosis is not contagious, it can make you and others around you ill once it becomes active.
Symptoms can vary for individuals who have tuberculosis. However, it is challenging for doctors to diagnose children with the condition. Nonetheless, there are several known and common symptoms for the disease. These symptoms include:
If you experience any combination of these symptoms, visit your physician as soon as possible. While these symptoms are fairly nebulous, a doctor can use diagnostic tests to confirm the condition.
Only a doctor can provide a tuberculosis diagnosis. The World Health Organization recommends using rapid molecular diagnostic tests to diagnose tuberculosis. These are best used as the first diagnostic test when an individual exhibits symptoms of the condition. The tests are highly accurate. The benefit of these tests is that they often lead to early detection of tuberculosis, as well as drug-resistant tuberculosis.
The two main types of tuberculosis are active TB and latent TB. Active TB – also referred to as TB disease – is contagious and causes symptoms. Alternatively, latent TB causes no symptoms and is not contagious while dormant. While tuberculosis generally manifests in and affects the lungs, it can also affect other body parts. In these cases, this is what helps physicians determine the difference between pulmonary TB and extrapulmonary TB diagnoses.
If your doctor suspects you have tuberculosis, they will take care to find the specific form of the condition. Then, they will alter your treatment course to suit your diagnosis.
There are different ways to prevent tuberculosis. Early vaccination is the best and easiest form of tuberculosis prevention. The vaccine, called Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG), is not often given in the United States. The vaccine also only protects against some tuberculosis strains.
If you have or suspect you have tuberculosis, avoiding crowds until you are no longer contagious can help stop the spread. Without taking any precautions, people with active TB can spread the disease to 10 to 15 close-contact people per year. Health care professionals also advise wearing surgical masks to prevent spreading the airborne disease.
Anyone can contract tuberculosis, but there are groups at higher risk for TB infection. Ultimately, there may be a number of reasons why you should get tested for tuberculosis.
Unlike other bacterial infections, tuberculosis is not treated with antibiotics for a week or two. Once diagnosed with active TB disease, most people often need to take a combination of medications. These medications will last for anywhere from six to nine months. So, if you are wondering, “Should you see a doctor for tuberculosis?”, the answer is: Yes.
It is crucial to undergo the full treatment if prescribed medications. If you do not complete the full medication regimen, a TB infection could return. Recurring tuberculosis can become resistant to medications, making it more difficult to treat.
Some tuberculosis strains that are resistant to certain drugs. This means your doctor will likely prescribe a combination of medications and antibiotics. The most common of these combinations are:
Curing tuberculosis is possible, but the outlook differs by case. A person’s medical history and willingness to undergo treatment affect successfully curing active TB. For instance, if the infected individual has other diseases, it may be more challenging to treat active TB. HIV is just one of the diseases that weakens the immune system. Ultimately, it hinders the body’s ability to fight off tuberculosis, along with other infections.
Lack of access to medical care is another issue when treating tuberculosis. Along with early diagnosis and treatment, antibiotic combinations are instrumental in potentially curing TB.