Healthy Living

What is Tuberculosis?

What is Tuberculosis?

Key Takeaways

Tuberculosis, or TB, is a bacterial infection that spreads by breathing droplets of sputum containing the infectious organism. It mainly affects the lungs but may also reach other parts of the body, like bones and nervous system, as the bacteria may spread through lymph nodes and the blood stream. A person exposed to the causative bacteria may remain asymptomatic if the bacteria is in an inactive stage called latent TB. When the bacteria enters into active stage, they start affecting the tissues of the organs that they have infected. If left unattended, active forms of this bacterial infection may become serious and cause lots of complications, including death.

This disease affects millions of people worldwide and many new cases are reported every year. It is a common cause of death and is prevalent in people with HIV/AIDS. This contagious disease is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The disease spreads by inhaling minute droplets of infected sputum present in the air. Coughing, sneezing, and spitting by an infected person may all send thousands of such infected droplets into the air. 

Some people are found to be more susceptible to get the infection than others including:

  • Individuals who live in close contact with an infected person
  • Residents of nursing homes
  • Young children
  • Those who abuse drugs and alcohol
  • Individuals who have malnutrition
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • HIV/AIDS patients

The disease may remain asymptomatic in many people and when present include:

Treatment for tuberculosis depends on the type of infection. For latent forms of TB, isoniazid antibiotics are recommended to be continued for six to twelve months. For active TB, other drugs, like rifampin, ethambutol, and streptomycin may be added to isoniazid. Several multi-drug resistant tuberculosis have also been reported, which is difficult to treat successfully. For those affected by drug-resistant strains of the bacteria, in addition to the conventional medications several other drugs are also used. The treatment may be continued for a longer duration for successful removal of infection. To eradicate the bacteria from the body, one must be compliant with the medications and adhere to the treatment strictly. The medications should not be stopped when the person start feeling better. In some cases, surgery may be recommended to remove the damaged tissue in the lungs.

BCG vaccination is the best way to protect children from the disease. Having a healthy diet to improve the functioning of the immune system is very important in adults to prevent this infection.