Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious, bacterial disease caused by bacteria known as mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB usually causes infections in the lungs but can also infect other parts of the body like the kidneys, bones, joints or lymph nodes. Many believe the disease isn’t something that occurs within the so-called, “developed,” world. This is untrue. According to the New York Department of Health approximately 1300 cases are reported in the state each year. TB is an airborne spread disease that comes out in the sputum of an infected person when they are talking, shouting, coughing, sneezing, or spitting. TB can be contracted by anyone of any age and it kills approximately 1.7 million people across the globe every year.
Those at risk of contracting tuberculosis usually have had prolonged exposure to individuals with the disease. In the US, individuals with TB are most often found in hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters. As a result, healthcare workers, illicit drug users and law enforcement workers are most at risk. Those individuals living or traveling in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, where the disease is more common, are also at greater risk. Other groups, particularly those with cancer, diabetes and HIV are also considered to be at greater risk.
TB can lay dormant, or latent, for years without ever causing obvious symptoms. A person with latent TB will not have the TB germs in their sputum nor will they display any other obvious symptoms. TB is considered to be in the contagious disease stage when TB the germs are detected in the sputum of the infected individual.
If you suspect that you’ve been exposed to individuals with TB, or if you’ve been diagnosed with a disease that weakens the immune system like HIV, then a visit to your doctor or to a walk in clinic may be advised. Symptoms of TB include night sweats, fever, fatigue and persistent coughing. It’s important to remember, however, that TB may be contracted without any of these outward symptoms. The only way to be sure is through TB testing.
TB testing is done through a skin test called the Mantoux test. This is also known as a PPD test and happened in two stages. During the first stage of testing a trained health worker will intravenously inject a substance called tuberculin into the top layer of skin on the lower part of the arm.
48 to 72 hours later the patient returns for the second stage of testing where a trained healthcare worker observes the skin around where the tuberculin was administered. If the skin is raised and hardened it’s an indication that the patient may have TB bacteria in their body. This swelled area, if it appears, is known as an induration. A physician would then administer additional testing including chest x-rays and blood tests to be sure of a positive diagnosis. If there is a positive diagnoses there are several drugs that may be given to eradicate the bacteria from the body.