Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious, airborne condition caused by different strains of bacteria, generally Mycobacteria tuberculosis (MTB), that primarily affects the lungs. TB is spread through the air when individuals with active TB cough or sneeze, and someone else inhales the infected air droplets.
The majority of people who are infected with TB have latent (inactive) TB, which is not contagious. An individual with latent TB has the condition, but does not show symptoms, and may not even know that they are infected. Although only 10% of individuals with latent TB will progress to have the active form of TB, treatment is still necessary to reduce the potential spread of the disease in the population.
Common symptoms of active TB include chronic (long term) coughing, bloody mucus, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. Diagnosis of latent TB is done through a skin test or blood tests. Active TB can be diagnosed through an x-ray, or testing certain body fluids such as blood or saliva. Treatment is available through multiple antibiotics over a long period of time. Treatment for latent TB is generally easier than for active TB, but most treatment plans will be completed within six months if all procedures are followed correctly. Individuals with weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS, IV drug users and hospital workers are most at risk.
Unfortunately, multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is a growing problem and is much harder to treat because the strains of the TB causing bacterium mutate and are not affected by the antibiotics that are currently available for treatment. MDR-TB is mostly caused by improper use of antibiotics that allows the bacteria to stay in the body and become resistant to the antibiotics. If you think you may have been exposed to active TB, contact your doctor to discuss the most current treatment options.