This page provides a brief introduction to TB, including what it is, what causes it, TB disease, the spread of TB and some additional facts about tests, drugs, treatment and prevention.
TB is a disease which in humans is usually caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis). TB is an abbreviation of the word Tuberculosis and is how people often refer to the disease.
Bovine TB is a disease caused by similar bacteria called Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis). Bovine TB mainly affects cattle but can also affect humans. Most of the information on this website refers to TB in humans.
Just a few years ago it was believed that TB was an old disease, and that it was no longer a problem in humans. But now because of such issues as drug resistance and HIV, it has become a major problem again.
The bacteria that usually cause TB in humans, usually affect the lungs, but can affect other parts of the body. If you are infected with the bacteria you won’t necessarily become sick, because you can have either latent TB or TB disease.1Basic TB Facts”, CDC www.cdc.gov/TB/topic/basics/default.htm People with latent TB do not feel sick and do not have any symptoms.
TB disease is what happens when a person has latent TB and then becomes sick. Sometimes this is known as having active TB. Overall about 5 to 10% of people with latent TB, who do not receive treatment for it, will become sick at some time in their lives.2“Basic TB Facts”, CDC www.cdc.gov/TB/topic/basics/risk.htm
Some people become sick soon after they have become infected, before their immune system (the part of the body that fights diseases) can fight the bacteria. Other people don’t get sick at first but they get sick years later when their immune system becomes weak for another reason. This can be because they have an infection, such as HIV, or some other health problem.
Some people are known to have a higher risk of becoming ill.3“Guidelines for Preventing the Transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in Health-Care Settings 2005”, CDC, 5 www.cdc.gov/tb/publications/guidelines/infectioncontrol.htm
You get TB by breathing in TB bacteria that are in the air. The bacteria spread through the air from one person to another. Bacteria get released into the air by some person who is already infected with them. When a person with TB of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, sings or talks, droplets containing the bacteria are released into the air. That is why people who think they may be infectious, may often hold something over their mouth when they are near to other people. People working in a health clinic may for this reason sometimes wear a mask.
People are not equally infectious. Generally it is only people with TB of the throat or lungs who are infectious.4“Guidelines for the Investigation of Contacts of Persons with Infectious Tuberculosis”, CDC, www.cdcnpin.org/scripts/tb/cdc.asp Also, the most important factor is whether someone is on effective treatment. TB treatment dramatically reduces the number of infectious droplets released by a person. The strength of a person’s cough can also affect the number of droplets released.
The bacteria can sometimes stay alive in the air for a few hours, especially in small places with no fresh air. Fresh air and sunlight make it harder for the bacteria to stay alive. The fresh air scatters the bacteria and the sunlight kills them.5“Get the Facts About TB Disease”, CDC www.cdc.gov/tb/publications/pamphlets/default.htm
It is not known why some people who are exposed to the bacteria become infected when other people don’t. The chance of becoming infected depends mainly on the amount of infectious droplets in the air, and the length of exposure to an infectious person. The closer the infectious person is, and the longer the time of exposure, the higher the risk is of being infected.6“Guidelines for Preventing the Transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in Health-Care Settings 2005”, CDC, 5 www.cdc.gov/tb/publications/guidelines/infectioncontrol.htm
The bacteria are not transmitted:
The symptoms depend on which area of the body has been infected. If someone has pulmonary disease, which is TB in the lungs, then they may have a bad cough that lasts longer than two weeks. They may also have pain in their chest and they may cough up blood or phlegm from deep inside their lungs. Other symptoms of TB include weakness or fatigue, weight loss, lack of appetite, chills, fever and night sweats.7“Get the Facts About TB Disease”, CDC www.cdc.gov/tb/publications/pamphlets/default.htm
It is very difficult to diagnose TB by a person’s symptoms on their own. This is because some other diseases have the same symptoms.
A diagnosis is usually only certain when there is definite evidence of TB bacteria. Some of the TB tests used for diagnosis look directly for the bacteria. Others such as the chest X-ray look for the effect of the bacteria on the person suspected of having TB. Tests for diagnosis include the TB skin test, sputum microscopy, the culture test as well as the new Genexpert test.
Major problems with the older tests are the lack of accuracy as well as the time they take. With newer tests a major issue is the cost.
TB can usually be cured. The treatment usually consists of a combination of TB drugs that must be taken for at least six months. But the treatment will only be successful if the drugs are taken exactly as required for the entire length of time.
Some of the drugs have very severe side effects and are very difficult to take for such a long period of time. This is why there is such an urgent need for new TB drugs to be developed. Two new drugs are delamand and bedaquiline but they are only for the treatment of MDR TB. There is lots more and this is only an introduction to TB treatment.
If someone has drug resistant TB it means that the bacteria in their body won’t be affected by certain drugs that they are resistant to. The drugs just won’t work. There are two main reasons why people develop it. It can be because the person doesn’t take their drugs properly. It can also be that the bacteria that they are infected with, have come from someone who has already got drug resistant TB. Being drug sensitive is the opposite of being drug resistant.
If someone has drug resistant TB then they must change drugs. But they mustn’t have just one new drug. They need to have several new drugs and for it to be believed that they will all be effective. Drug susceptibility testing which is available in many countries, and is very important, provides information about which drugs a person is resistant to.
A major part of the prevention of TB is to stop the spread of the bacteria from one adult to another. This is done by firstly finding the adults who have TB. Then providing them with effective treatment means that they are no longer infectious and they will also recover from being sick. There is a vaccine, the BCG vaccine, but it is used for children as it doesn’t seem to prevent the disease in adults.
Sometimes it is believed that education about TB only needs to involve people who already have the disease. But there is a need to also educate the general public. This is firstly to ensure that people know how the disease is spread, to also reduce the stigma surrounding the disease. It can also help to ensure that people with TB come forward for testing and treatment as soon as possible.
The treatment of TB
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|1.||↑||Basic TB Facts”, CDC www.cdc.gov/TB/topic/basics/default.htm|
|2.||↑||“Basic TB Facts”, CDC www.cdc.gov/TB/topic/basics/risk.htm|
|3.||↑||“Guidelines for Preventing the Transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in Health-Care Settings 2005”, CDC, 5 www.cdc.gov/tb/publications/guidelines/infectioncontrol.htm|
|4.||↑||“Guidelines for the Investigation of Contacts of Persons with Infectious Tuberculosis”, CDC, www.cdcnpin.org/scripts/tb/cdc.asp|
|5.||↑||“Get the Facts About TB Disease”, CDC www.cdc.gov/tb/publications/pamphlets/default.htm|
|6.||↑||“Guidelines for Preventing the Transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in Health-Care Settings 2005”, CDC, 5 www.cdc.gov/tb/publications/guidelines/infectioncontrol.htm|
|7.||↑||“Get the Facts About TB Disease”, CDC www.cdc.gov/tb/publications/pamphlets/default.htm|