Almost 2.5 billion people, or one-third of the world’s population, are infected with tuberculosis1. Most infected people have latent TB, meaning they have the tuberculosis germs in their bodies, but their immune systems protect them from becoming sick. However, over 9.6 million people have active TB disease, worldwide. In the United States, TB is much less common. However, it continues to cause disproportionate illness in certain populations. This post,”Tuberculosis: 7 Symptoms & 7 Groups at Risk,” is important to Jay Harold. While working as an Infectious Disease Pharmacist in the early 1990’s, Jay Harold became infected with Tuberculosis. The drug treatment was long, and my Chest X-Rays show TB exposure.
Tuberculosis2 (TB) is a disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but they can also damage other parts of the body.
TB spreads through the air when a person with TB of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, or talks. If you have been exposed, you should go to your doctor for tests. You are more likely to get TB if you have a weak immune system.
TB is NOT spread by:
- shaking someone’s hand
- sharing food or drink
- touching bed linens or toilet seats
- sharing toothbrushes
When a person breathes in TB bacteria, the bacteria can settle in the lungs and begin to grow. From there, they can move through the blood to other parts of the body, such as the kidney, spine, and brain.
TB disease in the lungs or throat can be infectious. This means that the bacteria can be spread to other people. TB in other parts of the body, such as the kidney or spine, is usually not infectious.
People with TB disease are most likely to spread it to people they spend time with every day. This includes family members, friends, and co-workers or schoolmates.
Symptoms of TB in the lungs may include:
- A bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Coughing up blood or mucus
- Weakness or fatigue
- Night Sweats
Latent TB Infection and TB Disease3
The bacteria that cause TB are spread through the air from person to person when a person with TB disease coughs, speaks or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected. There are two types of TB conditions: latent TB infection and TB disease.
TB bacteria can live in the body without making you sick. This is called latent TB infection. In most people who breathe in TB bacteria and become infected, the body is able to fight the bacteria to stop them from growing. People with latent TB infection do not feel sick, do not have any symptoms, and cannot spread TB bacteria to others.
If TB bacteria become active in the body and multiply, the person will go from having latent TB infection to being sick with TB disease. For this reason, people with latent TB infection are often prescribed treatment to prevent them from developing TB disease.
People with TB disease usually have symptoms and may spread TB bacteria to others. TB disease can be treated by taking medicine. It is very important that people who have TB disease are treated, finish the medicine, and take the drugs exactly as prescribed. If they stop taking the drugs too soon, they can become sick again; if they do not take the drugs correctly, the TB bacteria that are still alive may become resistant to those drugs. TB that is resistant to drugs is harder and more expensive to treat.
Preventing Latent TB Infection from Progressing to TB Disease4
Many people who have latent TB infection never develop TB disease. But some people who have latent TB infection are more likely to develop TB disease than others. Those at high risk for developing TB disease include:
- People with HIV infection
- People who became infected with TB bacteria in the last 2 years
- Babies and young children
- People who inject illegal drugs
- People who are sick with other diseases that weaken the immune system
- Elderly people
- People who were not treated correctly for TB in the past
If you have latent TB infection and you are in one of these high-risk groups, you should take medicine to keep from developing TB disease. Jay Harold will talk about treatment options for Tuberculosis in a later post.
Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the world’s deadliest diseases5:
- One-fourth of the world’s population is infected with TB.
- In 2016, 10.4 million people around the world became sick with TB disease. There were 1.7 million TB-related deaths worldwide.
- TB is a leading killer of people who are HIV infected.
A total of 9,272 TB cases (a rate of 2.9 cases per 100,000 persons) were reported in the United States in 2016. This is a decrease from the number of cases reported in 2015 and the lowest case count on record in the United States. The case rate of 2.9 per 100,000 persons is a 3.6% decrease from 2015. While the United States continues to make slow progress, current strategies are not enough to reach the goal of TB elimination in this century.
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