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    Contributed by Dept of Respiratory & Critical Care Medicine


    Tuberculosis, or TB for short, is a disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB is a serious disease that can cause a person to become very sick if not treated properly with medicines.

    How is tuberculosis spread?

    TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The TB bacteria is passed through the air when someone who is sick with TB disease coughs, laughs, sings, or sneezes. When you breathe air that has the TB bacteria, you may get TB infection (latent TB). This means you have dormant (sleeping) TB bacteria in your body that does not make you sick and cannot be passed to anyone else. If these dormant TB bacteria wake up and multiply, you will get sick with TB disease (active TB).

    If you have TB infection, the chances of getting TB disease increases if you have HIV infection or other health problems such as diabetes that make it difficult for your body to fight bacteria. If you abuse alcohol or use illicit drugs, or you were not treated correctly for TB infection in the past your risk of getting TB disease increases as well.

    You cannot get TB bacteria from sharing drinking containers or eating utensils, sharing cigarettes, or saliva shared from kissing

    Can tuberculosis affect other parts of the body?

    TB usually affects the lungs, but can affect other parts of the body such as lymph nodes, bones and joints, kidneys, intestines, covering of the heart known as the pericardium, brain and liver.


    Patients with tuberculosis disease (active TB) may complain of persistent cough, sometimes this may by productive of blood-stained sputum, fever and chills, night sweats, loss of appetite, loss of weight, and easy fatigability.


    A screening chest radiograph can be done. Though a normal radiograph does not exclude tuberculosis, there is a much lower likelihood of having tuberculosis disease (active TB) of the lung if the radiograph is normal.

    Besides an abnormal chest radiograph that may suggest tuberculosis disease (active TB) of the lung, sputum tests need to be done to confirm this. These specimens are specially stained and examined under the microscope for the tuberculosis bacteria. The specimens are also cultured to look for growth of the tuberculosis bacteria, and these results can take up to 2 months before they are ready. In some cases, both the initial examination under the microscope and the cultures are negative for the tuberculosis bacteria, but the patient responds to treatment with medicines for tuberculosis with resolution of symptoms and improvement in serial chest radiographs.


    Tuberculosis disease (active TB) can be treated very effectively with a combination of appropriate drugs. Treatment may take up to 6 months or more, but as long as they are taken as prescribed, the disease usually can be cured.

    More reading
    American Lung Association:

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