Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by the Koch bacillus, a germ that belongs to the Mycobacterium family. It primarily affects the lungs and it is contagious. Besides the lungs, TB can also affect lymph nodes, intestinal tract, kidneys, bones, and brain.
If you have a strong immune system you could not get ill of TB even if you come in contact with infected subjects. You could also inactivate the virus and keep it locked in your lungs by creating with the help of macrophages a scar tissue all around the infected area, but in the moment you get a weaker immune system (like those people who have HIV) the bacillus could reactivate and manifest and even infect other organs.
Symptoms of TB infection are: cough that lasts longer than three weeks, fever, breathing problems, night sweats, fatigability, chest pains, and loss of weight and appetite.
TB is transmittable from mother to fetus and symptoms of the infection appear during the first year of life: fever, poor feeding, breathing problems, failure to thrive and even swollen liver and spleen.
Healthy persons receive the infection if living or working in the same place with the infected person. By coughing, shouting or sneezing, the infected person spreads the germs into the air, and others inhale them. Shaking hands or touching clothes does not infect others.
Another form of tuberculosis is transmitted by drinking unpasteurized milk. The responsible bacterium for this form of TB infection is called Mycobacterium bovis. Years before, this bacterium was a major cause of TB in children, but now since most milk is pasteurized (a heating process that kills the bacteria) it does not cause TB any more.
There are some tests doctors do to find out if one is infected. First of all, they perform a skin test, meaning that they inject into your skin a purified protein derived for the TB germ. After more then 48 hours the injected skin area will present a bump. If the bump is large, the test is considered to be positive, meaning that the TB infection has occurred.
If this test does not convince doctors about your condition, they will ask you to do a thoracic X-ray which shows where in the lungs the infection could be localized and how greatly it is expanded.
If the suspected person coughs, doctors take the sputum and with the help of the microscope they search for the TB germs in the sputum. This is quite an accurate method of diagnosing TB.
The HIV patients are at high risk of developing TB, due to their weakened immune system. Some of them are infected with TB and the virus is not active, but at any moment the virus can wake up and manifest. In the world, there are about 38 million people living with AIDS and about one-third of them also have TB. Very often tuberculosis affects the HIV patients long before other problems correlated with HIV develop.
Tuberculosis seems to appear more frequent in crowded, non-hygienic places like: prisons, juvenile detention centers, and homeless shelters.
General preventing methods of spreading the TB is hospitalizing the infected person, and practically isolating it from those who are healthy. Treatment must be followed at least 6 months constantly because interrupting the treatment could lead to spreading the disease in other organs, like: kidneys, intestinal tract, and lymph nodes, and even leading to the death of the infected person.
For the treatment to be effective, patients must take their prescribed dugs during all the period of time they were advised by the doctor, otherwise the bacillus could get multiple drug resistant and this would only lead to a crisis of effective drugs against tuberculosis, and to a possible epidemic.