Tuberculosis is an ancient, infectious disease caused by a bacteria. Also called consumption, tuberculosis was once extremely widespread and is still a problem in poorer parts of the world. When people think of tuberculosis, they think of a disease that strikes the lungs, but it can also attack other places in the body such as the bones. People can catch tuberculosis fairly easily because, like the common cold, it is spread when a person with the active disease coughs or sneezes. The bacteria that causes the disease is also very tough. It is very hard to eliminate when it is in the body, though it is rapidly destroyed by exposure to heat and light. According to the World Health Organization, a little more than 10 million people were stricken with tuberculosis in 2016.
Causes of Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis is caused by the mycobacterium tuberculosis, or M. tuberculosis. Under the microscope, this bacteria is rod shaped or has a slight curve and often clumps together. It is unable to move by itself but needs to be transmitted through droplets of moisture. It is Gram negative, which means that its walls won’t easily take up Gram staining. Gram staining is how certain bacteria are identified. Some scientists believe this is because the walls of the bacteria are waxy and full of fat. These characteristics may also contribute to the bacteria’s hardiness.Anyone can contract tuberculosis, but people are more at risk if they are:
- Have a compromised immune system
- Live or work with people who have TB
- Live in conditions that are unhealthful or crowded
- Abusers of IV drugs
- Cancer patients
- Have other diseases of the lungs
Symptoms of Tuberculosis
Some people who have tuberculosis do not have symptoms. These patients are said to have latent TB. They are not sick and can’t infect other people with tuberculosis. The danger with latent TB is that the person might not know that they’re harboring the bacteria. Though it is not a common occurrence, the bacteria can wake up and make the person ill and contagious. People who have latent tuberculosis can and should be treated for the disease.
The symptoms of active tuberculosis can take years to develop, and when they arrive they include a chronic cough that sometimes produces blood or a thick, grayish or yellowish mucus. Other symptoms are chills accompanied by a low-grade fever, weight loss, night sweats and long-lasting fatigue. Patients may also suffer from shortness of breath, chest pain and reddish or cloudy urine.
Treatment of Tuberculosis
There are four drugs used to treat latent tuberculosis. Some are taken for three months, some for four and some for six. Patients who have active tuberculosis usually take a combination of these. The patient may need to spend a short period of time in the hospital but can otherwise take these drugs at home. Some strains of tuberculosis are resistant to these drugs. Patients with drug resistant TB are treated with a type of antibiotic, as well as injections of medicines, which can last as long as 2 1/2 years. These drugs can be supplemented with other medications. It is important that the patient finish the entire course of the drugs, even if they feel better soon after they start taking them.