Tuberculosis, or TB, is a bacterial infection that usually infects the lungs. Other organs, such as the kidneys, spine, or brain may also be involved. TB is primarily spread from person to person in an airborne manner, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also cause an active infection after a period of not being active in someone who was exposed at an earlier time.
There is a difference between being infected with the TB bacterium and having active tuberculosis disease.
The following are the stages of TB:
The main TB bacterium is Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis). Many people infected with this bacterium never develop active TB. They remain in the latent (inactive) TB stage. However, in people with weak immune systems, especially those with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), or those receiving medicines that suppress the immune system, TB organisms can overcome the body's defenses, multiply, and cause an active disease.
The TB bacterium is spread through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, sings, or laughs. It’s not likely to be spread through personal items, such as clothing, bedding, a drinking glass, eating utensils, a handshake, a toilet, or other items that a person with TB has touched. Good ventilation is the most important measure to prevent the transmission of TB.
TB affects all ages, races, income levels, and both genders. Those at higher risk include the following:
The following are the most common symptoms of active TB. However, each person may experience symptoms differently:
The symptoms of TB may look like other lung conditions or medical problems. Talk with a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
TB is often diagnosed with a skin test. In this test, a small amount of testing material is injected into the top layer of the skin. If a certain size bump develops within 2 or 3 days, the test may be positive for tuberculosis infection. Other tests include X-rays and sputum tests. A blood test can be done in place of the TB skin test.
TB skin tests are suggested for those:
For skin testing in children, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends testing:
Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment for you based on:
Treatment may include:
If TB is not treated early or if treatment isn’t followed, permanent lung damage can result.
If you will be spending time with a person or people with active TB, wear a face mask and try not to stay in a small enclosed space with poor ventilation. People who work in situations where there is a high risk for encountering people infected with TB, such as healthcare workers, should be tested for TB on a routine basis. In countries outside the U.S. where TB is more common, a childhood vaccine is often given.
If your symptoms get worse or you get new symptoms, let your healthcare provider know.
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