What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is an infection that usually involves the lungs. Due to the massive and free world immigration, now it has a worldwide distribution and it gains interest again after the HIV (AIDS) pandemic.

How is tuberculosis transmitted?

Someone can be infected by Mycobacterium tuberculosis from another person who is sick with TB. The Mycobacterium tuberculosis is found in tiny droplets in the surrounding air of  a petient with tuberculosis who coughs, sneezes or speaks loudly. So if a healthy person inhales these droplets, he can get infected.

What happens if someone gets infected with tuberculosis?

If someone is infected by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, he may not get sick immediately. On the contrary, there are the following 2 possibilities:

  1. The body’s immune system, which is essentially responsible for defending the body can destroy mycobacteria. If this happens, then the person will not get sick with tuberculosis.
  2. The immune system can limit the mycobacteria but not  kill them all. This is called latent TB. People with latent tuberculosis do not become ill immediately after infection but may develop TB later in their life. The people who eventually develop tuberculosis are called as individuals with active tuberculosis.

What are the symptoms of active TB?

These may include:

  •  Coughing that is chronic
  •  Fever
  •  Night sweats
  •  Weight loss without the individual to make a special diet

Do I need to visit my doctor?

Visit your doctor if you:

  • Have been in close contact with someone with known TB
  • You cough for over a month and your cough is not improving
  • Have other symptoms suspicious of tuberculosis such as fever, night sweats and weight loss.

Is there a test to diagnose tuberculosis?

Yes. The doctor will check you for TB by the so-called Mantoux test. This is just a small injection of dead mycobacteria into the skin of your hand with a very small needle. After 2-3 days, the doctor will examine your hand at the sting site to assess whether it has risen and hardened at the injection point and measure this in millimeters. Only your doctor can evaluate this test on your hand, because according to certain criteria he will estimate whether you are infected with tuberculosis. In addition, there is a special blood test which can assess whether you are infected with TB, which has the advantage of not requiring revisit your  doctor in 48-72 hours, as the Mantoux test.

What happens if the test is positive?

In this case, you will probably need therapy. This of course varies depending on whether you have active TB or latent TB. People who are sick (ie people with latent TB) will have to take a drug therapy for 4 to 9 months. People who have active tuberculosis, it is necessary to receive combined treatment with 4 different antituberculosis drugs for 2 months and then 2 of them for another 4 or 7 months or more.

If your doctor has prescribed anti-tuberculosis treatment, it is absolutely necessary to take it exactly as he advises, without skipping any doses. If you do not receive full treatment, there are chances in the future to get ill with tuberculosis, or  Mycobacterium develop resistance and not destroyed by the drugs. Then, it can be very difficult to treat tuberculosis and the patient may die because of drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis is a serious contagious disease. It may even lead to death in some cases.. For this reason it is so important to take the medication exactly as designated by your doctor.

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