Contributed by- Dr Snehal Singh
Tuberculosis or TB is a dangerous infection that can easily spread from one person to another. Being a contagious disease, knowing the TB symptoms can help in seeking timely medical aid. If proper treatment is not received, the infection can be fatal.
Here are some of the FAQs related to tuberculosis and facts about TB you should know.
What is TB?
Tuberculosis or TB is a bacterial infection that can be fatal if not treated on time. This infection primarily affects the lungs but sometimes it may affect various other parts of the body as well. There are different types of TB that determine the severity of the condition and the possibility of the spread of the infection.
Normally, a healthy person is able to fight off infections and also the TB causing germs. However, sometimes, people may not be able to do so and the germs are able to attack the person causing tuberculosis infection.
- Latent TB– When a person is infected with the tuberculosis bacteria, but that does not show any symptoms or make the person sick, it is latent TB. However, in such cases, the infection is there within but has not presented itself and the infection does not spread to others. If this phase is not treated there is a greater risk of suffering from active tuberculosis.
- Active TB–When an infected person feels sick and shows signs and symptoms of tuberculosis, it is in the active phase. They can actively spread the disease to others.
What are the causes of TB?
TB is caused by bacteria named Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which spreads when an infected person releases them through in the air while sneezing or coughing.
Some people are at greater risk of catching the infection than others. These include
- People with weakened immunity – like those infected with HIV, those having certain illnesses like diabetes or autoimmune disorders,
- People taking certain medications or those undergoing chemotherapy or other cancer treatments.
- Younger children and elderly adults
- People with poor nutritional status, people suffering from prolonged illness and those living in crowded areas with inadequate ventilation are also at risk of catching the infection.
What are the signs of TB?
TB does not produce any symptoms during the latent stage but common complaints are noted during the active stage. The signs of tuberculosis depend on the affected site, but in general, fever and weight loss are noted. Some people may experience an evening rise of temperature and fever that causes extreme weakness. Symptoms of TB in the chest or pulmonary tuberculosis mainly include a persistent cough that lingers around for more than two weeks. It may also cause coughing up of blood, heaviness in the chest and chest pain, along with appetite loss and other symptoms.
Are there any early symptoms of TB?
In order to detect TB infection early, it is necessary to pay special attention to early signs and symptoms. Some of the common early symptoms of tuberculosis include loss of appetite, excessive weakness or fatigue, weight loss and fever. Cough that does not get better and chest pain may also be experienced by most people suffering from tuberculosis.
How to diagnose TB?
Persistent cough and other signs of tuberculosis often raise suspicion, but appropriate investigations need to be done to confirm TB diagnosis.
- Blood tests to detect infection and inflammation
- X-ray chest and if required, detailed scans like CT scan to study the appearance of the lungs
- Examination of sputum or phlegm to detect the presence of TB bacteria
- Sometimes, advanced investigations like a biopsy of the affected part may be ordered to examine the tissue or fluid sample in the area.
The need for these investigations is best decided by the treating doctor. As tuberculosis can affect other body parts too, the doctor may advise specific scanning and investigation related to the part. The results help to confirm the diagnosis, find the type of tuberculosis, the extent and severity of the infection.
Genexpert – This is a molecular test, which helps detect the presence of TB bacteria from the sputum or tissue sample. The results of this test are given within two hours, which make it stand out from the other confirmatory investigations that usually take weeks to give their results.
How is TB treated?
Tuberculosis is an infection, which needs to be treated with antibiotics. The precise dose and duration of the mediations depend on the type, location and severity of the infection. But mostly, the treatment period usually lasts for six months, further which some people may need additional treatment or follow-up. Hence, it is very important to follow medical advice and complete the given course of medicines.
Drug-resistant tuberculosis is a challenge, as they do not show improvement with the use of regular drugs that treat tuberculosis.
Prevention of TB
The most important part is preventing tuberculosis and controlling the spread of infection. People with active tuberculosis are often isolated to prevent spread until they are completely treated. Following basic personal hygiene like washing hands properly, covering your nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing is essential.
Detecting the infection during the latent phase and treating it is equally important to prevent tuberculosis. There are tests to check if a person has latent tuberculosis, which can be done with medical advice, for example, Mantoux test and Interferon Gamma Release Assay (IGRA). People who have been in close contact with a tuberculosis patient or those with a greater risk of TB, those who had a previous history or healthcare workers would mainly benefit from these tests.
Immunization–Tuberculosis vaccine has played an important role in preventing TB, particularly in younger children. The BCG vaccine is used as an integral part of the National immunization programme and has offered excellent protection to children against tuberculosis.
With increasing awareness and improved diagnostic tests, TB control and management has become easier.
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