Introduction to Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It mainly affects the lungs and is contracted from other people who are infected with this bacteria.
What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It mainly affects the lungs and is contracted from other people who are infected with this bacteria. The method of contraction is usually via droplets that are inhaled from sneezes or coughs from the infected person. It is a very serious condition but can be effectively treated with antibiotics. Pulmonary (lung) tuberculosis is most common, but it can affect any part of the body including the lymph nodes, nerves and bones. Once the bacteria has been contracted, you can become actively infected within a few weeks or you can have ‘latent’ inactive TB for years and then become active. The reason for people becoming active after being latent for so long is usually due to a weakened immune system (e.g. HIV infection, chemotherapy, organ transplant medication). An X-ray can usually reveal whether TB is present, even in healed TB (scarring and calcium visible). Vaccination has resulted in a huge reduction in the number of TB cases in the developed world, however, it still remains a problem globally in developing countries such as Africa and India.
What are the causes for Tuberculosis?
The cause of infection is by contracting the responsible bacteria. This is caused by inhaling aerosolized droplets containing the bacteria from a sneeze or cough of a person who is infected with TB. Care should be taken to isolate anyone with a known infection and a face mask should be worn to prevent inhalation of such droplets. Vaccination reduces the chance of becoming infected with TB by improving your bodily response if it ever comes in contact with it. However, it does not fully prevent infection with TB. Extrapulmonary TB is generally only occurs in those with a weakened immune system.
What are the symptoms of Tuberculosis?
Pulmonary tuberculosis causes a cough which is productive of phlegm. This phlegm can sometimes contain blood. There may be pain in the chest area, a fever and a reduction in appetite with severe night sweating. The untreated disease process causes weight loss and general body ‘wasting’. If the TB affect lymph nodes, it can cause swelling in areas such as the neck, groin and armpits. TB affecting other areas of the body is known as extrapulmonary TB; symptoms in these cases include confusion, headaches, seizures, abdominal discomfort and bone and joint pains.
How is Tuberculosis treated?
TB can be cured with a long course of antibiotic treatment that lasts at least six months. Treatment usually occurs at home but can be started in hospital if admission is required (e.g. serious infection). Compliance to the medication regime is extremely important and the medical team will instruct you on how and when to take the medication and that you must complete the full course of treatment. The tablets may have certain side effects that the Doctor will discuss but not all patients will experience these. You will be required to visit a clinic until your treatment is finished and for shortly afterwards to ensure the infection is cured. You will have to remain off work and not make contact with any new people until the Doctor informs you that you can (usually at least six months).