Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.
Signs and Symptoms
Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. As a result, two TB-related conditions exist: latent TB infection (LTBI) and TB disease. Both latent TB infection and TB disease can be treated.
Symptoms of TB disease depend on where in the body the TB bacteria are growing. TB bacteria usually grow in the lungs (pulmonary TB). TB disease in the lungs may cause symptoms such as
- a bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer
- pain in the chest
- coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lungs)
Other symptoms of TB disease are
- weakness or fatigue
- weight loss
- no appetite
- sweating at night
Symptoms of TB disease in other parts of the body depend on the area affected.
Latent TB Infection (LTBI):
People who have latent TB infection do not feel sick, do not have any symptoms and cannot spread TB to others.
Transmission (How it Spreads)
TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.
TB is NOT spread by
- shaking someone’s hand
- sharing food or drink
- touching bed linens or toilet seats
- sharing toothbrushes
Testing and Treatment
MCHD Latent Tuberculosis Infection (LTBI)
There are two kinds of tests that are used to detect TB bacteria in the body: the TB skin test (TST) and TB blood tests. These tests can be given by a health care provider. If you have a positive reaction to either of the tests, you will be given other tests to see if you have latent TB infection or TB disease
Latent TB Infection –
If you have latent TB infection but not TB disease, your health care provider may want you be treated to keep you from developing TB disease. Treatment of latent TB infection reduces the risk that TB infection will progress to TB disease. Treatment of latent TB infection is essential to controlling and eliminating TB in the United States. The decision about taking treatment for latent TB infection will be based on your chances of developing TB disease.
TB Disease –
TB disease can be treated by taking several drugs, usually for 6 to 9 months. It is very important to finish the medicine, and take the drugs exactly as prescribed. If you stop taking the drugs too soon, you can become sick again. If you do not take the drugs correctly, the germs that are still alive may become resistant to those drugs. TB that is resistant to drugs is harder and more expensive to treat.
TB tests are generally not needed for people with a low risk of infection with TB bacteria.
Certain people should be tested for TB bacteria because they are more likely to get TB disease, including:
- People who have spent time with someone who has TB disease
- People with HIV infection or another medical problem that weakens the immune system
- People who have symptoms of TB disease (fever, night sweats, cough, and weight loss)
- People from a country where TB disease is common (most countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia)
- People who live or work somewhere in the United States where TB disease is more common (homeless shelters, prison or jails, or some nursing homes)
- People who use illegal drugs
Treatment of latent TB Infection greatly reduces the risk that TB infection will progress to TB disease. Those at high risk for developing TB disease include:
- People with HIV infection
- People who became infected with TB bacteria in the last 2 years
- Babies and young children
- People who inject illegal drugs
- People who are sick with other diseases that weaken the immune system
- Elderly people
- People who were not treated correctly for TB in the past
It is important that individuals with latent TB infection speak with their medical provider about treatment options.