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Tuberculosis: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Team AckoOct 31, 2022

According to a World Health Organisation report, around 28% of the 10.6 million global Tuberculosis (TB) cases were found in India in 2021. TB is contagious and can spread if people don't take proactive measures to avoid an active infection. This article sheds light on TB’s symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention methods so that you can learn more about this life-threatening disease.

Tuberculosis Disease

Contents

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What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is a viral disease that mostly affects the lungs and is potentially dangerous. People can contract Tuberculosis from one another by coughing or sneezing small droplets of bacteria into the air. Previously uncommon in developed nations, Tuberculosis infections started to rise in 1985, partly due to the appearance of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV impairs the immune system, making it less able to combat the TB bacteria. 

Most medications used to treat Tuberculosis don't work on many forms of the disease. For months, people with active Tuberculosis disease must take various medications to treat the infection and stop the development of antibiotic resistance.

Which bacteria causes Tuberculosis?

Mycobacterium Tuberculosis is the name of the bacterium that causes TB. This bacteria has a waxy exterior and a mycolic acid shell. This bacterium has a highly aerobic metabolism and needs a lot of oxygen. Additionally, this microorganism is not mobile. Strangely, this bacterium divides more slowly than other bacteria. 

Signs and symptoms of Tuberculosis

Following are the symptoms of Tuberculosis:

  • Chest pain

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Persistent cough

  • Traces of blood in cough

  • Difficulty and pain while breathing

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Chills

  • Weakness

Low-grade fever, a persistent cough that lasts for weeks, and exhaustion are the early signs of Tuberculosis infection. If you suffer from these symptoms for more than three days, please consult your doctor immediately. A doctor can examine you and confirm if you have an active or latent infection with the help of several tests.

What are the causes of Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that can spread through close contact with an infected person. Here are the potential causes of this disease.

1. Contact with an infected person

The only way to contract Tuberculosis is by breathing in contaminated air. For example, breathing while in close contact with an infected person when they sneeze.

2. HIV infection

The danger of contracting TB infection is greater in those with compromised immune systems.

3.Smoking

Smoking increases the chance of developing Tuberculosis and the likelihood of the disease returning, and decreases the effectiveness of treatment. 

4.Unhygienic living conditions

People that live in unhygienic conditions, especially in slums, are more prone to TB as being in close contact with an infected person, drinking contaminated water, etc., can increase the risk of transmission.

5.Taking anti-immune-suppressive medicine

Treatment for certain health conditions may require the patient to regularly consume anti-immune-suppressive medicines. This decreases the body’s ability to fight off infection.

6.Diabetes and kidney disease

Patients with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) are at a higher risk of contracting Tuberculosis infection due to suppressed cell-mediated immunity brought on by a variety of factors, including hypoalbuminemia, uremia, malnutrition, immunosuppressive therapy, and advanced age.

7.Pregnancy

The risks to the pregnant woman and her unborn child are more significant if the TB condition is not treated. Babies born to women who are untreated for TB disease may have low birth weight.

8.Organ transplant

The most frequent cause of TB in transplant recipients is the reactivation of pathogens in the recipient. At the same time, it can also originate from an infection that went undetected in the transplant or from contracting a new infection after the surgery. Numerous cases of TB infection from the donor graft to the recipient have been documented, mainly when the place of origin of the donor is a TB-affected country where this disease is common.

9.Being a healthcare worker

Healthcare workers exposed to patients with active TB are known to be at a high risk of developing the disease.

10. Air pollution

Air pollution is mainly caused by factors like burning biomass fuels, passive smoking, smoke from factories, vehicles, etc. There is mounting proof that ambient air pollution and the risk of Tuberculosis are strongly related.

Treatment for Tuberculosis

TB is almost always treatable and curable despite the fact that the illness is still a major cause of death in many regions worldwide. To get rid of all the bacteria and prevent the development of antibiotic resistance, it is necessary to carefully follow the doctor’s instructions. 

Treatment may last six months or more because TB bacteria are difficult to kill. While patients with active TB may require a mix of three to four medications, those with latent TB may need less.

One of the main concerns during treatment is that patients may quit taking their medication before all the bacteria is killed. The primary reason could be that it is difficult to remember to take medication for such a prolonged period of time. 

If a patient stops taking the prescribed medication, the remaining bacteria may multiply and develop antibiotic resistance. Because of this, the illness is far more hazardous and challenging to treat.

Diagnosis of Tuberculosis

It can be difficult to diagnose TB. Doctors will initially consider a patient's background and the possibility that they were exposed to an individual who had an active infection. Then, to confirm TB and choose a treatment plan, a number of screenings and tests may be required. 

Only a few screening tests can detect latent TB because it has no symptoms and fewer bacteria are present in the body. Your doctor may ask you to undergo the following tests if they suspect an infection.

1.The tuberculin skin test : It is commonly known as the Mantoux test or PPD, which is the initial TB test performed (purified protein derivative). On the forearm, the upper layer of skin is injected with a bacteria-based solution. The injection site will then be checked when the patient comes back in 48 or 72 hours. A TB infection may be present if the red, elevated lump measures more than 5 to 15 millimetres. However, results can occasionally be inaccurate, leading to false positives or negatives.

2.Biopsy : The bacteria may be grown using a biopsy of the lymph nodes, lungs, or other tissues to make them easier to spot under a microscope.

3.Testing on a cough sample : The mucus that comes up when you cough is called sputum. Sputum samples can be tested in a lab for M. Tuberculosis directly.

4.Blood test : More definitive results can be obtained through a blood test. The interferon-gamma release assay (IGRA) test gauges the immune system's reaction to M. Tuberculosis infection. After taking a blood sample, the test is carried out in a lab.

5.Chemical tests: These can be used to determine the bacteria's genetic makeup and assist in determining the most effective antibiotics.

Additional testing is required to identify active TB if the results of the initial screenings are positive. A person's TB bacterium strain and the best medications to use can both be identified through lab testing. Imaging provides further details on the location and effects of the disease in the body.

  • Chest X-rays : X-rays may be taken to check for TB lung symptoms.

  • CT scans : If X-ray images of the lungs are indistinct, CT scans may be performed to look for TB in the spine or to provide better views of the lungs.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) : If medical professionals believe the Tuberculosis infection has moved to the brain or spine, they may order an MRI of those regions.

  • Bone scanning : These can be utilised to distinguish between lesions brought on by TB and malignancy.

How can I prevent Tuberculosis?

The best defence against contracting TB is a strong immune system and avoiding contact with people who are actively infected. It's crucial to find and treat latent TB patients before they turn into active cases, especially in high-risk populations. The CDC's most recent recommendations mandate that the majority of healthcare workers be tested for Tuberculosis when they are hired in order to prevent the spread of the disease in healthcare environments.

Additional measures to stop the spread of TB include the following.

  1. In places where there are patients at high risk of TB, using germicidal UV lights to kill airborne bacteria will help reduce the amount of bacteria in the air.

  2. Increasing the likelihood of successful treatment by the use of directly observed therapy (DOT), in which patients taking TB medicine are regularly monitored by their healthcare practitioners.

How long does it take to cure Tuberculosis?

Latent TB can remain present in an individual for years without showing any signs of illness. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises a three to four-month treatment plan if the bacteria is found. 

Active Tuberculosis treatment can take six to nine months. People with TB disease must take their medication exactly as prescribed for the entire duration. Otherwise, the illness can come back and become more challenging to treat.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some common questions and answers about Tuberculosis.

Is Tuberculosis fatal?

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Tuberculosis can be cured with medication. However, if a person does not get the necessary treatment, it can be a fatal disease.

Can the life expectancy of a Tuberculosis patient reduce even after successful treatment?

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Researchers have discovered that persons who successfully underwent treatment for active Tuberculosis disease may have a shorter life expectancy than those with latent infection, with an estimated loss of 3 to 4 years.

Does the BCG vaccine (given at birth) protect against TB?

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No, the BCG vaccine given at birth is not very helpful in protecting against TB. Even if you received the BCG vaccine, you could still get a TB infection. You must have a TB test to determine whether you have TB disease or latent infection.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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