Tuberculosis is an infectious condition that usually affects the lungs, though it can be uncertain and affect any part of the body. It can develop bacteria widespread through droplets in the air. Tuberculosis (or TB) is a fatal condition, but in several cases, it is preventable as well as treatable. In old times, TB was a major cause of death worldwide. With the improvement in living conditions and development in antibiotics, the prevalence of this medical condition fell dramatically in industrialized countries.
However, the number of cases rose again in the 1980s, and the WHO (World Health Organization) described it as an “epidemic.” According to WHO, it is the 13th leading cause of the increase in death rate globally and the second most infectious disease after COVID-19. According to the WHO estimates, in 2020, nearly 10 million people infected by TB and 1.5 million people died from the same disease, including 2.14 million people who have had HIV. The most affected region was Asia. However, TB remains a concern in various areas, including the United States.
In the current scenario, antibiotic resistance is the reason behind renewed concerns regarding TB among experts. Some TB strains are not responding even to the most effective treatment options.
What is tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is a contagious injection form that typically attacks your lungs. It can also affect other body parts and their functioning, like the brain and spine. It occurs and is spread by bacteria, namely, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Earlier in the 20th century, tuberculosis was a leading cause of fatality in the United States. Today, it is possible to cure most cases with antibiotics, but it is prolonged. You have to take antibiotics for a term of at least 6 to 9 months.
What causes tuberculosis?
Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the only bacterium that causes tuberculosis. A variety of TB strains exist, and unfortunately, some have become resistant to medication. TB bacteria spread through infected air droplets as once these droplets enter the atmosphere, anyone nearby can inhale them.
Someone with TB can transmit bacteria by coughing, sneezing, singing, and speaking.
People with robust and well-functioning immune systems may not experience any TB symptoms, even if they contact someone having tuberculosis or have contracted the bacteria. It is known as inactive or latent TB infection and about a quarter of the world’s total population has latent TB.
Latent TB is not a contagious variant, but it can become active with time. Active TB can cause sickness, and you can also spread it to other people.
What are the symptoms of tuberculosis?
Some people who acquire the bacteria that causes TB do not experience any symptoms, and this condition is known as latent TB. Tuberculosis can stay in an underlying condition for years before becoming an active TB disease. Active TB usually causes various symptoms. While most symptoms typically relate to the respiratory system of an individual, they could also affect other body parts, depending on where the TB bacteria grow.
Symptoms of TB in the lungs include chest pain, cough lasting more than three weeks, or cough up sputum (phlegm), or blood. At the same time, general tuberculosis symptoms include weakness, unexplained fatigue, chills, fever, appetite loss, night sweats, and weight loss.
Together with general symptoms, tuberculosis spreading to other organs can also cause:
- muscle spasms, back pain and stiffness, and spinal irregularity if TB affects the spine
- loss of kidney function and blood in urine, if tuberculosis affects the kidneys
- confusion, nausea and vomiting, and loss of consciousness, if tuberculosis reaches the brain
How to prevent tuberculosis?
Even if the risk of this alarming medical issue is low where you live, it never hurts to know what you can do to prevent the contraction of TB bacteria or transfer the existing infection to others. The risk of exposure to TB bacteria is comparatively low in North America. But it is still essential to learn about measures to prevent this condition in high-risk settings.
A few preventive measures you can take are:
- get in contact with a medical healthcare professional for testing if you doubt you have been exposed to TB
- visiting a travel clinic or consulting your doctor about check-ups before and after traveling to a region or country with a high TB rate
- take a test for TB if you have HIV (AIDS) or any condition that increases the risk for infection
- make a query about your workplace infection prevention and control program; follow the precautionary guidelines if your job carries an exposure risk to TB
- avoid close or extended contact with someone who has active tuberculosis
Ways to prevent transmission
If you don’t take precautions, you are prone to the risk of transmission. According to the WHO reports, people with active tuberculosis can transfer their infectious bacteria to about 10 and 15 people through close contact per year.
Doctors recommend following these steps to prevent TB transmission:
- Get tested right away if you have a higher TB risk or think you may have been exposed
- if you test positive for latent (active) TB, take medication precisely as per the dosing schedule recommended
- if you are clinically diagnosed with active TB, avoid crowds and close contact with people until you are no longer contagious
- Wear a mask or cover your mouth if you have to spend time with others while having active tuberculosis