Tuberculosis Signs and Symptoms

Tuberculosis (TB) is a very common infection in India that is also very contagious. When an infected person sneezes or coughs, air particles containing the TB bacteria can easily spread and each infected person can further infect up to another 10 people each year.

According to WHO, India accounts for about 20% of the global TB cases. Each year, about 2 million people in India develop TB, and over 300,000 die because of it.

Find out more about the TB bacteria and how it spreads here.

Who is at risk of contracting TB?

Anyone can contract TB, especially if they are in a closed space with the affected person. The unaffected person inhales droplets with bacteria and these bacteria reach the lungs. Here, the immune system puts up a fight against the bacteria. If successful, the bacteria will remain in the lungs but in a “latent” form. If the immune system is unsuccessful in containing the bacteria, then an active case of TB can develop. Once the bacteria invade the body and overwhelm the immune response of the body, they can also find their way to various organs through the blood stream.

Signs and Symptoms of TB

People with a latent TB infection don’t have any symptoms, don’t feel sick and cannot infect others. They do, however, test positive to the Mantoux Skin Test. Treating latent TB is important since it can get activated, especially if the immune system is weakened for any reason, including nutritional deficiencies or infection with HIV.

In the case of an active infection, signs and symptoms vary according to the organ that is affected.

In case the lungs are affected, the symptoms are:

  • A cough persisting for 2 to 3 weeks and beyond, which is usually worse in the mornings
  • Chest pain
  • Blood in the sputum (the mucus and saliva produced when coughing or clearing throat)
  • Breathlessness

Back pain may be caused by tuberculosis of the spine, and blood in the urine may be caused by tuberculosis in your kidneys.

TB in the brain can cause headaches, a stiff neck, confusion, vomiting, an altered mental state, seizures and other signs and symptoms related to the nerves.

In general, a person with active TB in any organ may have these signs and symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Sweating in the night time while sleeping, even if the weather is cold

If TB is suspected, what should you do?

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, or has reason to think they have been exposed to TB then they should seek consultation from a healthcare worker and the public health authorities. These healthcare workers will perform one of two tests: a test on the skin and one of the sputum (mucus produced when coughing). Those who have had the BCG vaccine against TB, which is mandatory at birth in India, may have a “positive” skin test despite not being infected with TB.

The skin test will need to be re-examined two days after it is given. If a sputum sample is provided, the results may take longer as they need to be sent for laboratory work.

Find out about tuberculosis treatment here