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Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that affects the lungs, which can be serious if not treated promptly and completely. The bacteria responsible for causing tuberculosis can spread from person to person through tiny droplets that are released into the air through sneezes and coughs. In 1985, the prevalence of tuberculosis infections began to rise significantly. One of the most common contributors to the spread of TB is HIV because people who have HIV have weakened immune systems and therefore are unable to fight off the bacteria causing the infection. There are many different strains of tuberculosis bacteria, and some of them are drug resistant. People who are suffering from active tuberculosis need to take several different types of medicine over the course of many months in order to not only eradicate the infection, but also to prevent the development of a resistance to antibiotic medications.

Causes, Risk Factors and Complications

The tuberculosis infection is caused by bacteria that spread by way of microscopic droplets that release into the air. When someone who has an active, untreated form of tuberculosis coughs, sneezes, speaks, laughs, spits or sings, they can release the bacteria into the air, which causes it to spread. Tuberculosis is a contagious infection, though it is not an easy one to catch. The people one is most likely to catch the infection from are friends, family members and coworkers, and so the likelihood of having a carrier around is very small.

Without treatment, tuberculosis is capable of being fatal. Active disease, when left untreated, can affect the lungs and a number of other body systems and can also spread by bloodstream throughout the body. Untreated tuberculosis in its active state can spread to the bones to cause joint destruction, the brain to cause meningitis, the kidneys and liver and the heart to cause cardiac tamponade, which is fatal. Seeking treatment for tuberculosis, whether it is active or dormant, is essential to prevent the disease from becoming worse.

Signs, Symptoms and Tests

In latent tuberculosis, there is a TB infection present but the bacteria are inactive so they are not causing any symptoms. The inactive form of tuberculosis is not only asymptomatic, but also non-contagious. Active TB, on the other hand, will make the patient feel sick and can spread to other people as well. Some of the most common symptoms associated with active tuberculosis include cough, fatigue, night sweats, unintentional weight loss, fever, chills and loss of appetite. Tuberculosis typically affects the lungs but can spread into numerous other systems within the body.

During a physical exam, a physician will look for swollen lymph nodes and will check the lungs with a stethoscope. The most commonly used test for tuberculosis is a skin test. Physicians inject PPD tuberculin just below the skin on the inside of the forearm, and swelling at the site of injection within 48 to 72 hours. If there is a hard and raised bump at the site of the injection, then the odds are good that the patient has tuberculosis.

Treatment, Drugs and Prevention

The cornerstone for a tuberculosis treatment is medication though treatment takes much longer for tuberculosis as compared to other bacterial infections. The most common drugs used for tuberculosis treatment include Pyrazinamide, Ethambutol or Myambutol, Rifampin or Rimactane and Isoniazid. Completing the treatment is absolutely essential, even though after only a few weeks the tuberculosis will no longer be contagious. It is crucial that patients work closely with a physician (directly observed therapy) and continue to take their prescribed treatment exactly as it was prescribed by the physician until the course of medication is completed.