Tuberculosis is a devastating disease that affects the lungs in most cases.
In 2017 alone, 10 million people contracted TB and 1.6 million died from it.
The bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes the disease. They can transfer from one person to another. You may not even know you have this type of bacteria in your body until they develop into a full-blown case of TB.
We call such a case latent TB, which is different from the TB that you know. There are different types of TB, but you should still each one as a serious case. Keep on reading if you want to learn more.
Types of TB
There are 2 main categories of tuberculosis: active and latent. What people are most familiar with is the former one, but we’ll discuss both in detail below.
As the name suggests, the tuberculosis bacteria are inactive in this type of TB, but they remain in your body. As such, the infected person doesn’t develop any symptoms. They won’t feel sick and they won’t even know they have TB.
Latent TB is not contagious, as well. You can’t transfer the bacteria to other people even by sneezing or coughing. It won’t even show on chest X-rays and a sputum test. It may, however, react to TST (tuberculin skin test) or IGRA (interferon-gamma release assays).
That’s not to say that it isn’t harmless – it can advance to the active form of TB. About 10% of people with latent TB develop active TB, which is why the World Health Organization recommends getting treatment while the bacteria are still inactive.
Not all infected patients need to have their latent TB treated, though. Only those who have a higher risk should receive treatment, such as people with HIV or a compromised immune system.
Active tuberculosis is the type that shows symptoms and makes you sick. The bacteria in your body multiply at an incredible rate, requiring immediate treatment.
Active TB is contagious. The bacteria can spread through the air, infecting anyone with TB exposure. The infected may then get a latent TB or active TB, depending on how their bodies react to the bacteria.
Because of that, people who test positive for tuberculosis should give a detailed list of everyone they came in contact with. These people should then undergo testing to rule out a possible infection.
This disease can show up in chest X-rays, sputum tests, skin tests, and blood tests. People who need regular testing also undergo 2 step PPD. This reduces the chances of interpreting a boosted reaction as a new infection.
Another type that we should discuss is the Miliary TB, wherein the TB bacteria have spread beyond the lungs. The bacteria can spread to the other organs when they get into the bloodstream.
Like active TB, Miliary tuberculosis is contagious. It’s life-threatening, too, and treatment may last more than a month of antibiotics.
The diagnosis is Miliary TB often has the same procedures as in diagnosing active TB. The doctor can also order more tests to confirm the diagnosis, such as a CT scan, an MRI, a biopsy, and such.
Symptoms of Tuberculosis
It’s important that you get a diagnosis and treatment for tuberculosis early. For this reason, you should schedule a visit to the doctor as soon as you see the following symptoms:
- Coughing up blood
- Persistent coughs lasting more than 3 weeks
- Chest pain
- Consistent Fever
- Night Sweats
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
If you’ve come in contact with someone you know to have active TB, it’s best if you undergo testing even if you haven’t developed symptoms yet.
How Does TB Spread?
TB is airborne, meaning it passes from one person to another through the air. The bacteria can stay in the air for hours, and they can infect a person upon inhalation.
With that said, a patient may transfer the disease by coughing, sneezing, laughing, or even singing. Still, a few seconds of contact may not be enough to infect you. You usually have to be in close proximity to the infected person for a long period of time for you to catch it.
The bacteria also don’t transfer by shaking hands or kissing. Even if you share drinks or other stuff, you won’t contract the illness.
Tuberculosis is a serious case, which is why there are even laws in place to protect the public from an outbreak. Refusing to comply with treatment will have the patient arrested.
The treatment is rigorous; people with this disease often have to take medicines for more than six months. In fact, the doctor may even suggest DOT (directly observed therapy). In this approach, the patient meets with a healthcare professional every day so they can ensure that the patient takes the medicines as prescribed.
Some of the most common TB medicines prescribed by doctors are isoniazid, ethambutol (Myambutol), rifampin (Rifadin), or pyrazinamide. These kill the bacteria, but they die at a slow rate. That’s why you’ll need to take the medicine for a long period of time.
Missing a dose is dangerous — it can lead to MDR-TB (multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis). In this case, the patient will have to undergo a rougher and longer treatment in which only 50% recover.
Another mistake people do is stopping the medication because they feel better. This can also lead to MDR-TB since the bacteria may still be present. This is why it’s important to take the medicines for the prescribed amount of time.
In more serious cases, you might have to spend the first weeks of your treatment in isolation. You may either spend it in a hospital or at home if you’re not that sick.
Take Care of Your Health
Whichever of the types of TB you have, it’s important you seek treatment ASAP. Stick to the protocol and be earnest in taking your medicines. Not only will this ensure your recovery, but this will also keep the people around you safe.
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