World TB Day

What is TB? How is it diagnosed? How is it treated?

Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. As a result, two TB-related conditions exist: latent TB infection (LTBI) and TB disease. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.

Signs and symptoms of active TB include:

Coughing that lasts three or more weeks

Coughing up blood

Chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing

Unintentional weight loss

Fatigue

Fever

Night sweats

Chills

Loss of appetite

Diagnosis & Testing

There are two kinds of tests that are used to detect TB bacteria in the body: the TB skin test (TST) and TB blood tests.  A positive TB skin test or TB blood test only tells that a person has been infected with TB bacteria. It does not tell whether the person has latent TB infection (LTBI) or has progressed to TB disease. Other tests, such as a chest x-ray and a sample of sputum, are needed to see whether the person has TB disease.

Treatment

It is very important that people who have TB disease are treated, finish the medicine, and take the drugs exactly as prescribed. If they stop taking the drugs too soon, they can become sick again; if they do not take the drugs correctly, the TB bacteria that are still alive may become resistant to those drugs.

TB disease can be treated by taking several drugs for 6 to 9 months.