What is tuberculosis?

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Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by a type of bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It most commonly affects the lungs, although it can also affect other organs in the body. The bacteria that cause TB can lie dormant in the body for a long time, only to be activated by conditions like HIV infection, substance abuse, a recent infection, diabetes mellitus, and any cause of low immunity. TB is the most common cause of death in people living with HIV/AIDS.

TB is spread by droplets expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings. The probability of transmission is largely determined by how infectious the person is, the environment in which exposure occurred, the duration of exposure and how infective the bacterium is. Close contacts are at highest risk of infection. Transmission does not occur from a person with a dormant (or latent) infection.

What are the symptoms?

The most important symptoms are

• A cough lasting more than three weeks and not responding to usual antibiotic treatment.

• Production of pussy, sometimes blood-stained sputum.

• Evening fevers

• Night sweats

• Unexplained weight loss

What treatments work?

To cure TB you’ll need at least six months of treatment with antibiotics, and you may need to be under supervision so that you take them appropriately. Stopping treatment too soon or not taking the full dose can make the bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.

The usual combination uses the drugs isoniazid, rifampicin, pyrazinamide, and ethambutol.

The doctor may also recommend treatment for people you’ve come into close contact with over the previous two years.

What will happen to me?

TB is a life-threatening illness if you don’t get treatment. With treatment, however, most people make a complete recovery.