Understanding tuberculosis

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TB is a bacterial infection which can spread through the lymph nodes and bloodstream to any organ in your body.

It is most often found in the lungs with most people, who are exposed to TB, never developing symptoms because the bacteria can live in an inactive form in the body.

But if the immune system weakens, such as in people with HIV or elderly adults, TB bacteria can become active.

In their active state, TB bacteria cause death of tissue in the organs they infect.

Active TB disease can be fatal if left untreated.

Since the bacteria which causes tuberculosis is transmitted through the air, the disease can be contagious.

Infection is most likely to occur if you are exposed to someone with TB on a day-to-day basis, such as living or working in close quarters with someone who has the active disease.

TB was once a widespread disease and was virtually wiped out with the help of antibiotics developed in the 1950s, but the disease has resurfaced in potent new forms, namely multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extreme drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB).

Today, these new and dangerous forms of the disease have created a public health crisis in many large cities worldwide.

If you have TB, in its active or latent state, you must seek medical treatment.

If you have TB, you may have these symptoms:

* Overall sensation of feeling unwell.

* Cough, possibly with bloody mucus.

* Fatigue.

* Shortness of breath.

* Weight loss.

* Slight fever.

* Night sweats.

* Pain in the chest.

Virtually all of the symptoms of tuberculosis can be confused with symptoms of other diseases. Bloody mucus, for example, can also be a symptom of bronchitis or pneumonia.

An evaluation by your doctor is key to confirming whether you have latent TB infection, active TB disease, or some other condition.

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