What is tuberculosis (TB)

What is Tuberculosis (TB)?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious bacterial infection caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium. It primarily affects the lungs but can also spread to other parts of the body, such as the kidneys, spine, and brain. TB is a major global health concern, especially in developing countries like India, where there is a high prevalence of the disease.

Symptoms of Tuberculosis

The symptoms of TB can vary depending on the stage of the infection and the part of the body affected. The most common symptoms include:

  • Persistent cough that lasts for more than two weeks
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever and night sweats
  • Chills

Modes of Transmission

TB is primarily transmitted through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. When a person inhales the bacteria-containing droplets, they can become infected. However, it’s important to note that not everyone who is exposed to TB bacteria becomes infected. Factors like the duration and intensity of exposure, the infectiousness of the person with TB, and the immune system’s response play a role in determining whether infection occurs.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose TB, various tests are available, including:

  1. Tuberculin skin test (TST): A small amount of a substance called tuberculin is injected into the skin, and if a person is infected, a raised bump will appear at the injection site.
  2. Interferon-gamma release assays (IGRAs): Blood tests that detect the release of a substance called interferon-gamma when the person’s blood is exposed to TB proteins.
  3. Chest X-ray: An X-ray can help identify abnormalities in the lungs, such as the presence of nodules or cavities.
  4. Sputum test: A sample of sputum (phlegm) is collected and examined under a microscope to detect the presence of TB bacteria.

If diagnosed with TB, treatment typically involves a combination of antibiotics taken for several months. It’s important to complete the full course of treatment to ensure effective eradication of the bacteria and prevent the development of drug-resistant strains.

Prevention and Control

Preventing and controlling TB requires a comprehensive approach that includes:

  • Vaccination: The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine is commonly used to prevent severe forms of TB in children, but it has limited effectiveness against pulmonary TB in adults.
  • Early detection and treatment: Identifying and treating TB cases promptly can help prevent the spread of the disease.
  • Infection control measures: Implementing measures like proper ventilation and isolation of infectious individuals can minimize the transmission of TB in healthcare settings.
  • Contact tracing: Identifying and screening individuals who have been in close contact with a person diagnosed with TB can help detect additional cases and provide timely treatment.

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