If you’re even a casual student of history, you’ve likely learned something about tuberculosis. It goes back to ancient times. Tuberculosis (TB) bacteria have been found in Egyptian mummies.
Today’s reality is that one-third of the planet’s population is infected with the TB bacteria. Tuberculosis bacteria can be in a person but not become TB disease. When a person has the bacteria but is not sick, that’s known as latent TB infection. The immune systems of most people who are exposed to the bacteria are able to fight it and stop the bacteria from growing.
If the bacteria become active and multiply in the body in enough quantities that the immune system can’t stop the growth, that becomes TB disease. Once TB disease develops, the disease becomes highly contagious. If untreated, TB disease can be fatal.
In 2015, world wide there were 1.8 million TB-related deaths, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2015 in the U.S. about 9,500 cases of TB disease were reported — that’s like everyone in the community of Elkhorn, Wisc., having TB. The number of American cases of TB disease in 2015 actually increased from 2014.
TB can spread to other people through the air when someone with the disease coughs, sneezes or even speaks. The bacteria ride on tiny droplets into the air and can survive for several hours.
TB bacteria can impact any part of the body, but they usually attack the lungs. When that happens, symptoms of TB disease can include:
Symptoms can also include:
If the TB bacteria is in other parts of the body, the symptoms can be different.
If you’ve been around someone who has tuberculosis or have concerns about TB, see your health care provider. Without appropriate diagnosis and treatment, TB disease can develop and be fatal.
You have a higher risk for a TB bacteria infection if you:
If you become infected, your risk for getting TB disease is higher if you:
Parents take note: A child under age 5 who is exposed to the TB bacteria also has a higher risk for developing TB disease.
People with latent TB infection won’t show symptoms and won’t spread the bacteria. However, if TB bacteria become active in the body, TB disease can develop. To stop the development of TB disease, people with latent TB infection are often treated with medications that can stop the disease from developing.
Successful drug treatment for latent TB infection or TB disease can take for up to nine months.
When a diagnosis of tuberculosis is made, a health care professional can review the best treatment options.
If questions remain after a serious diagnosis such as tuberculosis, a second opinion can provide you with additional peace of mind.