Tuberculosis (TB) continues to be an active disease. It is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide, but is also still prevalent in the United States.
It is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body. Tuberculosis is curable and preventable.
TB is spread from person to person through the air. When people with lung TB cough, sneeze or even talk, TB germs can be propelled into the air. A person needs only to inhale a few of these germs to become infected. Not everyone infected becomes sick immediately. This is referred to as latent TB.
During the latent phase, the disease infection can be detected. With treatment, the patient can then prevent the disease from ever becoming active. This is why TB testing plays an important role in TB control.
If the individual does not receive preventive treatment during the latent phase, the disease may eventually become active when the immune system is compromised due to age or other disease. If the disease becomes active the patient with pulmonary TB would usually have symptoms such as productive cough with occasional bloody sputum, fever, night sweats, weakness, and weight loss. At this time the patient can also infect other people. People living with HIV are 30 times more likely to develop active TB. Another factor of concern with TB is the development of drug resistant TB. This means that the usual drugs for treating the disease are no longer effective.
In order to prevent TB infection and spread, it is important that screening and testing continue especially in all healthcare, childcare and other high risk areas. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of latent and active cases of TB are essential to eventually end this disease.