About Tuberculosis

About Tuberculosis

The Facts

A.Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by a germ (bacterium) called Mycobacterium tuberculosis that is spread from person to person through the air. TB usually affects the lungs and causes symptoms such as a deep chest cough, fever and weight loss. When TB infects the lungs, it is called pulmonary tuberculosis; extrapulmonary TB can affect other organs in different ways. TB can be life-threatening, and people with TB can spread the disease to others.
A.Common symptoms of active lung TB are cough with sputum and blood at times, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats.
A.Symptoms are a clue, but a doctor can test for TB. The methods of testing vary from country to country, and facility to facility. TB tests include: skin test, blood test, sputum microscopy, culture, and the new “Xpert” TB test. Tests can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks.
A.TB is spread from person to person through the air. When people with pulmonary (lung) TB cough, sneeze or spit, they propel the TB germs into the air. A person needs to inhale only a few of these germs to become infected. TB is not transmitted through food and water, by kissing, by skin contact such as shaking hands, by touching a toilet seat, or by sharing a toothbrush.
A.Those who have a higher chance of getting TB disease once exposed to the bacteria are:
  • People living with HIV;
  • Children younger than 5 years of age;
  • People who live in crowded, poorly ventilated conditions
  • People who have recently been infected with TB bacteria in the last two years;
  • People with other health problems that make it hard to fight disease;
  • People who smoke cigarettes or abuse alcohol and/or drugs; and
  • Mine workers.
A.Infection can be prevented by:
  • Avoiding enclosed areas with other people who have TB;
  • Opening the windows and let fresh air in;
  • Avoiding smoking and lead a healthy lifestyle, including not smoking;
  • *For mine workers: wearing a mask if one is available.
A.Yes. TB disease can be treated by taking several drugs for 6 to 12 months. It is very important that people who have TB disease finish the medicine, and take the drugs exactly as prescribed. If they do not take the drugs correctly, the germs that are still alive may become resistant to those drugs, making the infection even harder to treat.
A.Multidrug-resistant (MDR) TB is caused by inconsistent or partial treatment, when patients do not take all their medicines regularly for the required period. Extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR TB) is a rare type of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) that is resistant to the majority of TB medications. When people fail to complete standard treatment regimens, or are given the wrong treatment regimen, they may remain infectious. People they infect will have the same drug-resistant strain, meaning sometimes people can catch MDR TB or XDR TB directly rather than developing it from not treating their TB appropriately.
A.MDR TB takes much longer to treat than ordinary TB, and requires the use of second-line anti-TB drugs, which are more expensive and have more side-effects than the first-line drugs used for ordinary TB. Early and accurate diagnosis is important so that effective treatment is provided as soon as possible. XDR TB patients can be cured, but with the current drugs available, the likelihood of success is much smaller than in patients with ordinary TB or even MDR TB. Treatment depends on the extent of the drug resistance, the severity of the disease and whether the patient’s immune system is compromised.

Additional Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (Division of the National Health Laboratory Service), South Africa The Stop TB Partnership