What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by the TB bacterium (germ) breathed into a person's lungs. These bacteria can get into the air when somebody with active TB of the lungs coughs, sneezes or speaks. The most common way to catch TB is by spending a lot of time indoors with somebody who has the disease.
What are the symptoms?
The primary stage of the disease may be symptom-free, or the individual may experience a flu-like illness. In the secondary stage, called active disease, there might be a slight fever, night sweats, weight loss, fatigue and various other symptoms, depending on the part of the body affected. Tuberculosis of the lung (pulmonary tuberculosis) is usually associated with a dry cough that eventually leads to a productive cough with blood-stained sputum. There might also be chest pain and shortness of breath. This secondary stage, if affecting the lungs, is the contagious stage - whereby the bacteria can be spread to others.
How does tuberculosis spread?
The TB germ is carried on droplets in the air, and can enter the body through the airway. A person with active pulmonary tuberculosis can spread the disease by coughing or sneezing.
How is TB diagnosed?
Usually, the initial diagnostic/screening test for tuberculosis is the skin test. A small amount of fluid is injected under the skin of the forearm; the fluid contains a protein derived from the microorganism causing TB, and is absolutely harmless to the body. The area is visually examined by a health professional after 48-72 hours to determine the result of the test. A positive skin test does not mean that you have active disease; rather, that you may have been exposed to the organism referred to as TB infection, at some time in the past. If the result of the skin test is positive, a chest x-ray must be obtained to ascertain whether there is any active disease. A physician or a trained health professional will also review your history and may order further tests, if necessary. If you are diagnosed as having active TB, you will be required to take medications as prescribed by the physician.
Treatment of TB
The type of treatment required will depend on whether a person has TB infection or TB disease. TB disease and some cases of TB infection will be treated with medication. Modern medicines are very effective in treating TB. Treatment for most people can be by regular attendances at a major public hospital or with a specialist physician. It takes at least six months of medication to cure TB, however, some cases can take longer. If TB medication is not taken regularly, or the full course is not completed, then TB can return and be more difficult to cure. Therefore, to be cured it is essential that a person completes the full course of medication.