Tuberculosis, or TB, is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs. It is caused by the bacterium Myco-bacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria spreads through the air from person to person and mainly attacks the lungs, but it can also affect other areas of the body like the brain and spine.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, TB was a leading cause of death in the United States. Following a discovery, the development of vaccines and effective drug treatment led to the belief that the disease was almost defeated. Indeed, at one point, the United Nations predicted that Tuberculosis (TB) would be eliminated worldwide by 2025. Tuberculosis affects all age groups and all part of the world. However, the disease affects young adults and people living in developing countries.

Forms of Tuberculosis

Latent TB: Here, the bacteria remain in the body in an inactive state. The germs are in the body, but the immune system stops them from spreading. This result to not having symptoms and the infection is not contagious as well

Active TB: Here, the bacteria or germs multiply and makes you feel sick. It can also be transmitted to others. 90% of adult cases of active TB are from the reactivation of a latent TB infection.

About 1/3rd of the world’s population is believed to have latent TB. There is a 10 percent chance of latent TB becoming active, but this risk is much higher in people who have compromised immune systems i.e. people living with HIV or malnutrition, or people who smoke.

What causes TB and how does it spread?

TB is caused by a type of bacterium called Myco-bacterium Tuberculosis. It is spread when a person with active TB disease in their lungs coughs or sneezes and someone else inhales the expelled droplets, which contain TB bacteria and you would have to spend prolonged periods (several hours) in close contact with an infected person to catch the infection yourself.

Symptoms of Tuberculosis

The symptoms of TB vary depending on which part of the body is affected. General symptoms include;

  • Lack of appetite and weight loss
  • A high temperature (fever)
  • Night Sweat
  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue.

For TB that affects the lungs;

  • A persistent cough that lasts more than three weeks and usually brings up phlegm, which may be bloody.
  • Breathlessness that gradually gets worse

For TB outside the lungs

  • Persistently swollen glands
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pain and loss of movement in an affected bone or joint
  • Confusion
  • Persistent headache
  • Fits (seizures)

Diagnosis of TB

Several tests are used to diagnose tuberculosis, depending on the type of TB suspected. They include;

  • Chest X-ray to look for changes in the appearance of your lungs that are suggestive of TB
  • Urine and blood tests
  • Biopsy of the affected area
  • Lumbar puncture
  • CT scan, MRI scan or ultrasound scan
  • Endoscopy
  • Mantoux test to test for latent TB

Treatment of TB

The majority of TB cases can be cured when the right medication is available and administered correctly. The precise type and length of antibiotics treatment depend on a person’s age, overall health, potential resistance to drugs, whether the TB is latent or active, and the location of infection (i.e., the lungs, brain, kidneys).

People with latent TB may need just one kind of TB antibiotics, whereas people with active TB (particularly MDR-TB) will often require a prescription of multiple drugs. Antibiotics are usually required to be taken for a relatively long time. The standard length of time for a course of TB antibiotics is about 6 months.

TB medication can be toxic to the liver, and although side effects are uncommon, when they do occur, they can be quite serious. Potential side effects should be reported to a doctor such as dark urine, fever, jaundice, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. It is important for any course of treatment to be completed fully, even if the TB symptoms have gone away. Any bacteria that have survived the treatment could become resistant to the medication that has been prescribed and could lead to developing MDR-TB in the future. Directly observed therapy (DOT) may be recommended. This involves a healthcare worker administering the TB medication to ensure that the course of treatment is completed.


  • A few general measures can be taken to prevent the spread of active TB
  • Avoiding other people by not going to school or work, or sleeping in the same room as someone, will help to minimize the risk of germs from reaching anyone else.
  • Wearing a mask, covering the mouth, and ventilating rooms can also limit the spread of bacteria.
  • Get vaccinated with BCG infection


If left untreated, TB can be fatal. Complications such as meningitis, spinal pain, Joint damage, damage to the liver or kidneys and heart disorders.

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