Tuberculosis (TB) is an airborne bacterial infection that mainly settles in the lungs, however, other organs may also be affected by it. It spreads when someone inhales the droplets that are released when an infected person coughs, sneezes, laughs, talks, sings, etc. Despite being a contagious disease, TB does not spread easily from person to person. You need to be confined to the affected person for several hours to be infected. This means that family members, colleagues, and roommates are more likely to catch the disease than someone who sat next to a TB patient on the bus or train.
TB was, once, the main cause of death in the USA, however, suitable antibiotics were created with the development in the pharmaceutical industry. Dr. Israel Figa says that while TB is a potentially life-threatening disease, it can be cured with the right treatment and antibiotics. The treatments for TB typically last around six to nine months. Some bacteria of the TB infection may be drug-resistant and require longer treatments.
According to Dr. Israel Figa, the symptoms of this airborne disease are similar to that of flu or the common cold. It is also possible for you to become infected with the TB bacteria and not show any symptoms for months, or even years, this type of infection is known as latent or inactive TB.
Since the disease can affect several parts of the body such as lungs, abdomen, brain, and spine, the major symptoms vary. Some of the general symptoms of TB include:
1. Persistent cough lasting more than three weeks
3. Night Sweats
4. Extreme Fatigue
5. Lack of Appetite and weight loss
TB of different types causes different symptoms to appear. Active TB, where the bacteria multiply rapidly and invade different body organs, shows symptoms much faster than the other kinds. The active TB is contagious, so if you have been exposed to a suspected TB infected environment, get a TB test conducted immediately to avoid further spread of the disease.
If the bacteria has infected your lungs, your symptoms may include coughing out blood or mucus, this is known as pulmonary TB. Additional symptoms may include slowly worsening breathlessness.
TB infects organs other than the lungs less commonly. TB outside the lungs is known as extrapulmonary TB. Few cases of such infections are noticed as they typically show symptoms after a long time of being infected. Other affected organs may include lymph nodes, bones and joints, the digestive system, bladder, and reproductive system and, the nervous system. If you suffer from bone aches after being infected, it means that the infection spread into your bones. You may suffer from loss of movement in the affected bones or joints. Infection in the lymph nodes may cause you to suffer from persistently swollen glands. TB infections in the brain will cause symptoms such as seizures, persistent headaches, confusion, etc. to occur.
Typically, people with weak immune systems are the ones who get infected by TB which affects organs other than the lungs. Moreover, your body may not be able to defeat the TB bacteria if you suffer from diseases such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, kidney diseases, poor nutrition, arthritis, etc. The immune systems of young children and babies are not fully formed so they might be more prone to getting infected by TB in exposed environments.
If you go to get tested for TB, several tests will be conducted to identify whether you test TB positive or negative. So, for pulmonary TB, which is TB of the lungs, X-rays of your chest will be taken to judge the appearance of your lungs. Samples of your phlegm will also be collected to test the presence of bacteria.
Since there are various kinds of extrapulmonary TBs, various tests are conducted to check the presence of the suspected infection. You will have to take a CT scan, MRI scan, or ultrasound of the affected part of your body, for example, stomach, brain, etc. You will have to undergo endoscopy, which is basically an examination of the inside of your body using a camera installed in a thin tube. A biopsy will also be performed to collect a small sample of tissue or fluid from the affected area, in addition to the blood and urine tests. Furthermore, you may also have to go through the process of a lumbar puncture where doctors collect fluid samples from the base of your spine, which is attached to the skull.
If you are suspected to be infected with latent or inactive TB, you will have to take the Mantoux and Interferon Gamma Release Assay (IGRA) tests. These tests are mainly done when the person has been exposed to a TB infected environment or is traveling from a place where the infection is common. In the Mantoux test, a substance is injected into your arm, and if you are infected, then a hard red bump will form on the area the injection was placed in. If no bumps appear, then it means that you are not infected. The IGRA test is a blood test that is conducted if the Mantoux test comes back positive, if you’re a healthcare worker, amongst a few other reasons.
Dr. Israel Figa suggests that you take care of the following measures in case you are tested positive for any of the existing TB types:
Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious disease that spreads through prolonged contact with infected persons or the environment. Dr. Israel Figa describes the typical symptoms that may show signs of TB. If you feel yourself suffering from any one of the discussed symptoms, get tested immediately to protect your family members, close friends, and colleagues.