Tuberculosis, commonly referred to as TB, is a chronic
bacterial infection that can spread through the lymph nodes and bloodstream to
any organ in your body but is usually found in the lungs. In their active state,
TB bacteria in essence eat away at the tissue of infected organs, possibly
resulting in death. The organisms usually remain inactive after entering the
body; thus, most infected people will never develop the active form of the
disease if they receive proper care.
the bacteria that cause tuberculosis are transmitted through the air, the
disease can be quite contagious. However, it is nearly impossible to catch TB
simply by passing an infected person on the street. To be at risk, you must be
exposed to the organisms constantly, by living or working in close quarters with
someone who has the active disease. Even then, because the bacteria generally
stay dormant after they invade the body, only 10 percent of people infected with
TB will ever come down with the active disease. The remaining 90 percent will
show no signs of infection, nor will they be able to spread the disease to
others. Dormant infections can eventually become active, though, so even people
without symptoms should receive medical treatment.
widespread, TB became relatively rare with the help of antibiotic therapies
developed in the 1950s. Today, however, a new and highly resistant form has
emerged, creating a public-health hazard in many large cities worldwide. If you
have TB — in its active or dormant state — you must seek conventional
general, minority group members are at highest risk for tuberculosis. In 1998,
the incidence rate of tuberculosis among Native Americans was 12.6 per 100,000
persons, more than five times that for non-Hispanic whites (2.3) and nearly
twice the risk of the general population.
- At first, only a mild cough
or, often, no symptoms.
- Weight loss.
- Cough, with occasional bloody
- Slight fever, night sweats.
- Pain in the chest, back or
kidneys, and perhaps all three.
Who Gets It?
can get TB. People of all races and nationalities. The rich and poor. And at any
age. But for many reasons, some groups of people are at higher risk to get
active TB disease. The groups that are at high risk include:
People with HIV infection (the AIDS virus)
People in close contact with those known to be infectious
People with medical conditions that make the body less able
to protect itself from disease (for example: diabetes, the dust disease
silicosis, or people undergoing treatment with drugs that can suppress the
immune system, such as long-term use of corticosteroids)
Foreign-born people from countries with high TB rates
Some racial or ethnic minorities, such as American Indians
People who work in or are residents of long-term care
facilities (nursing homes, prisons, some hospitals)
People who are mal-nourished
Alcoholics and IV drug users
TB: WHAT YOU SHOULD
out if you're infected.
Everyone should be skin tested at least once and know whether their test result
is positive or negative. You should also be tested if there's any chance you
have been infected, recently or many years ago.
If the test is negative:
A negative reaction usually means that you are not infected and no treatment is
needed. Sometimes, however, when a person has only recently been infected, or
when his or her immune system isn't working properly, the test may be falsely
If the test is positive:
A positive reaction usually means that you have been infected with the TB germ.
It does not necessarily mean that you have TB disease. Cooperate with the doctor
when he or she recommends a chest X ray and possibly other tests.
If the doctor recommends treatment to prevent sickness, follow the
recommendations. If medicine is prescribed, be sure to take it as directed.
If you don't need treatment, do what the doctor tells you to do about follow-up.
The doctor may simply say to return for another checkup if you get into a
special risk situation for TB sickness or develop symptoms.
If you are sick with TB disease, follow the doctor's recommendations for
If you're a health worker:
Your local American Lung Association can provide you with more comprehensive
information developed for health professionals on the diagnosis, treatment and
control of TB.
Source: American Lung Association
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