What Is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis, most popularly known as TB, has been present in the world for a long time but is now not considered as big a danger after various treatments and vaccines for the disease have been developed. While TB existed for ages with its history going back to the Egyptian mummies according to evidence collected from the spines of their preserved bodies, it was discovered in 1882 after huge epidemics in Europe and North America by German scientist Robert Koch.

What Is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is the name given to a bacterial infection which spreads via the lymph nodes and usually affects the lungs though it has the capability of spreading into human organ. The bacterial infection becomes active usually amongst patients whose immune system is weakened either by a disease like HIV or by old age. When the infection becomes active, it causes the tissues of the organ in which the TB bacteria are present to die.

Since the bacterial infection remains inactive in some infested bodies, there are two types of TB conditions i.e. TB disease and TB latent infection

  • Latent TB Infection

Latent TB infection is the condition in which the body is infected by the TB bacteria but it remains in an inactive state. The bacteria remain inactive because of the body’s immune system which prevents the bacteria from growing. The latent TB infection shows no symptoms and is totally harmless. However, in case the bacteria become active, the latent TB infection will become TB disease.

  • TB Disease

TB disease is the name given to the condition when TB bacteria in a body become active and continue to multiply. Such a disease is associated with painful symptoms and can be deadly without treatment. People with TB disease can even transfer the TB bacteria to other human bodies too.

How Does Tuberculosis Spread?

TB usually spreads when an infected person puts the bacteria in the air when he sneezes or talks or coughs and the person standing beside him breathes in the air containing the TB bacteria.

There are certain myths about how TB spreads which are totally untrue. TB doesn’t spread by:

  • Hand-shakes
  • Eating together
  • Sharing bed-sheets and toilet-seats
  • Having the same toothbrush

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Tuberculosis?

The symptoms of the TB disease include:

  • Continuous coughing for over three weeks
  • Presence of blood in cough
  • Pain in the chest while breathing
  • Loss of weight that isn’t intentional
  • Tiredness
  • High fever
  • Heavy sweating at night
  • No appetite for food

TB has the capacity of affecting other body organs as well like the kidneys and spine. The symptoms are different when the bacterial infection affects any other organ other than the lungs. For instance, TB that affects spine would present itself in the form of severe back pain rather than severe chest pain.

When to See a Doctor

You should book an appointment with your doctor if you suffer from a high fever, lose a lot of weight or develop a chronic cough that lasts more than three weeks as these are the most commonly occurring symptoms of TB. However, you must remember that these symptoms can be associated other medical issues too.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the following individuals should undergo screening tests for presence of TB bacteria.

  • People diagnosed with HIV/AIDS
  • People who have used IV drugs
  • People living with TB patients
  • People in the hospital who look after TB patients

What Are the Causes & Risk Factors of Tuberculosis?

The transfer of TB bacteria from one person to another usually results when the bacteria are expelled by an infected individual into the air when he talks or coughs and the other individual breathes in that same air and inhales the bacteria. This makes TB a contagious disease. The disease does not remain contagious if the infected person gets proper medical treatment for the disease for 14 days or more. In any case, the disease is very hard to catch.

Any human being can catch the disease though there are risk factors which enhance the chances. These risk factors are:

Risk Factors


Weakness in immune system

A strong immune system is capable of preventing the TB bacteria from growing or spreading. However, a weakened immune system can’t control the bacteria. Conditions that can contribute to weakening the immune system include HIV/AIDS, diabetes, chemotherapy and old age etc.

International travel

Traveling to countries where the disease is more common can increase the chances of the inhalation of the bacteria as well. Countries where TB is very common and can be easily transferred include Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Kazakhstan and all the Sub Saharan African states.

Medication problems

Lack of medications and proper treatment of various conditions can weaken the immune system which can increase the chances of TB disease. Similarly, overuse of medications like the IV drugs also increase the chances of TB disease.

Place you live or work

If you work in a hospital or a health care organization that deals with TB patients, you remain at a high risk of catching the bacteria too. Similarly, if you live in a refugee camp or nursing homes or work there, the chances of getting the bacteria are high as well.

What Are the Treatments for Tuberculosis?

Antibiotics are normally good enough to treat TB. However, the antibiotics take time to treat the disease and to totally eliminate its effect as the tuberculosis bacteria grow very slowly. It remains important to keep taking the antibiotics for a period of 180 days or more regardless of the time when you start feeling totally healthy to ensure that there is no relapse. The common antibiotics used for TB treatment are:

  • Isoniazid
  • Rifadin
  • Pyrazinamide
  • Rimactane
  • Myambutol

For cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis, the treatment is 2 to 2.5 years long and consists of fluoroquinolones (a collection of antibiotics) along with medications that are injected into the body like kanamycin and amikacin.

Certain recently developed drugs are currently being considered for playing a supporting role to the afore-mentioned treatment for drug-resistant TB. These drugs include:

  • Bedaquiline
  • PA-824
  • Sutezolid
  • Linezolid
  • Delamanid

Why Are Multiple Antibiotics Needed?

Multiple antibiotics are used as the TB bacteria are capable of becoming resistant to a single drug within no time. By using a treatment consisting of more than two antibiotics, it is ensured that even if the bacteria become resistant to one type of antibiotic, the other antibiotics can eliminate the bacteria. Normally, two antibiotics are prescribed simultaneous for TB treatment though in certain cases, doctors prescribe four antibiotics during the first phase so as to ensure that the treatment is short and no other bacteria is allowed to remain in the body to cause a recurrence of the disease.

Each antibiotic drug comes with side-effects. However, the drugs are successful in almost 95% of the cases with the patients suffering from no major side-effect.

Medication Side Effects

All of the TB medicines are capable of causing toxicity in the liver. It’s best to contact the doctor as soon as possible if you suffer from any of the symptoms if you are taking TB medications.

  • Consistent vomiting
  • Yellowish tinge appearing on your skin (sign of jaundice)
  • Dark colored urine
  • A high fever lasting for over 72 hours

You can click here to an article on the prevention of tuberculosis.


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