Last updated date: 22-Jun-2023
Originally Written in English
Tuberculosis (TB): Symptoms, Treatment and Vaccine
Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It primarily affects the lungs but can also impact other parts of the body, such as the kidneys, spine, and brain. TB spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, releasing bacteria into the environment.
What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It primarily affects the lungs but can also impact other parts of the body, such as the kidneys, spine, and brain. TB is transmitted through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, releasing tiny droplets containing the bacteria.
When a person inhales these infected droplets, the bacteria can enter the lungs and establish an infection. The immune system of most healthy individuals can keep the bacteria in check, leading to latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI). In this stage, a person doesn't feel sick and cannot spread the disease. However, the bacteria can remain dormant in the body and become active at a later stage, especially if the immune system weakens.
Active tuberculosis occurs when the bacteria multiply and cause symptoms. The most common symptom of pulmonary TB is a persistent cough lasting for several weeks, along with other symptoms like chest pain, coughing up blood, fatigue, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. TB can also affect other organs, leading to different symptoms depending on the site of infection.
How common is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) is a global health concern, and its prevalence varies across different regions and populations. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 10 million people worldwide fell ill with TB in 2020. However, it's important to note that these figures are subject to change as new data becomes available.
The burden of TB is particularly high in low- and middle-income countries, where factors such as poverty, overcrowding, malnutrition, and limited access to healthcare contribute to its spread. In 2020, over 95% of TB deaths occurred in these countries.
TB can affect individuals of all ages, but certain populations are at higher risk. These include people with weakened immune systems, such as those living with HIV/AIDS, as they are more susceptible to developing active TB if they are infected with the bacteria. Additionally, individuals with certain comorbidities, such as diabetes, are also at an increased risk.
Efforts to control and eliminate TB are ongoing, with strategies focused on early detection, prompt treatment initiation, contact tracing, infection control measures, and public health interventions. Improved access to healthcare, diagnostics, and effective treatment are crucial in reducing the burden of TB and preventing its transmission.
What causes Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is an airborne infectious disease, meaning it is primarily transmitted through the air when an infected individual coughs, sneezes, or talks, releasing tiny droplets containing the bacteria.
When a person inhales these infected droplets, the bacteria can enter the lungs and establish an infection. However, not everyone who inhales the bacteria becomes sick with active TB. In most cases, the immune system is able to control the infection, leading to latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI). In LTBI, the bacteria remain dormant in the body without causing symptoms or spreading the disease.
Various factors can contribute to the development of active TB from LTBI. These factors include:
- Weakened immune system: Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those living with HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, or certain medical conditions (e.g., diabetes), are more susceptible to developing active TB if they have LTBI.
- Recent infection: People who have been recently infected with M. tuberculosis, particularly within the past two years, have a higher risk of developing active TB.
- Exposure to a high bacterial load: Close and prolonged contact with individuals with active TB, especially in crowded settings, increases the likelihood of transmission and the risk of developing active disease.
- Age: Young children and older adults, whose immune systems may be less efficient, are at higher risk of progressing from LTBI to active TB.
- Drug resistance: In some cases, TB can be caused by drug-resistant strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which develop when the bacteria acquire resistance to the antibiotics commonly used to treat TB.
Understanding the causes and risk factors associated with TB is important in prevention efforts, early detection, and appropriate treatment initiation. Effective control of TB includes strategies such as early diagnosis, timely treatment, contact tracing, infection control measures, and public health interventions to reduce the spread of the disease.
Are there different kinds of Tuberculosis?
Yes, there are different forms of tuberculosis (TB) that can affect individuals. These different forms of TB are categorized based on the site of infection and the extent of the disease. Here are some common types of TB:
- Pulmonary TB: This is the most common form of TB and primarily affects the lungs. It can cause symptoms such as a persistent cough, chest pain, coughing up blood, fatigue, weight loss, fever, and night sweats.
- Extra-pulmonary TB: This refers to TB that affects parts of the body outside the lungs. It can occur in various organs, including the lymph nodes, kidneys, spine, brain, bones, and joints. Extra-pulmonary TB may present with symptoms specific to the affected organ. For example, TB meningitis affects the brain and can cause severe headaches, neck stiffness, confusion, and neurological symptoms.
- Miliary TB: This is a severe and disseminated form of TB where the bacteria spread through the bloodstream and affect multiple organs in the body. It can cause widespread symptoms such as fever, weight loss, fatigue, and organ dysfunction.
- Latent TB Infection (LTBI): LTBI refers to a state where a person is infected with TB bacteria but doesn't have active symptoms or transmit the disease. LTBI is diagnosed through positive tuberculin skin tests or blood tests and requires treatment to prevent the development of active TB in the future.
Additionally, TB can be classified based on drug resistance. Drug-resistant TB occurs when the bacteria become resistant to the standard antibiotics used to treat TB, such as isoniazid and rifampicin. This includes multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), which are more challenging to treat and require alternative medications.
The different forms of TB require specific diagnostic approaches and treatment regimens tailored to the individual's condition. Proper diagnosis and management are essential to ensure effective treatment and prevent the spread of TB.
What are the signs and symptoms of Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) can affect different parts of the body, but the most common form is pulmonary TB, which primarily affects the lungs. The signs and symptoms of TB can vary depending on the site of infection and the individual's immune response.
Here are the typical signs and symptoms of TB:
- Pulmonary TB:
- Persistent cough that lasts for more than two weeks
- Coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm)
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Fatigue and weakness
- Unintentional weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Fever, especially in the evening
- Night sweats
- Extra-pulmonary TB:
- Symptoms vary depending on the affected site. For example:
- Tuberculous lymphadenitis: Swelling of lymph nodes, usually in the neck
- Tuberculous pleurisy: Chest pain, cough, and difficulty breathing due to inflammation of the lining around the lungs
- Tuberculous meningitis: Severe headache, neck stiffness, confusion, and neurological symptoms
- Tuberculous bone or joint infection: Joint pain, swelling, and limited movement
- Renal TB: Blood in the urine, pain in the lower back or sides
What kinds of tests are used to diagnose Tuberculosis?
There are several tests available to diagnose tuberculosis (TB) and determine whether an individual has an active infection or latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI). The choice of tests depends on various factors, including the individual's symptoms, medical history, risk factors, and available resources. Here are some common diagnostic tests for TB:
- Tuberculin Skin Test (TST): Also known as the Mantoux test, this involves injecting a small amount of purified protein derivative (PPD) tuberculin into the skin of the forearm. After 48-72 hours, a healthcare professional checks the injection site for a reaction. A raised, firm, and red bump may indicate a positive result, suggesting exposure to TB bacteria in the past. However, the TST cannot distinguish between latent and active TB.
- Interferon-Gamma Release Assays (IGRAs): These blood tests, such as the QuantiFERON-TB Gold and T-SPOT.TB tests, measure the release of interferon-gamma in response to TB-specific antigens. IGRAs are more specific than the TST and are not affected by prior Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination. Like the TST, IGRAs cannot differentiate between latent and active TB.
- Chest X-ray: A chest X-ray can help detect abnormalities in the lungs, such as signs of active TB infection. It can reveal the presence of lung lesions, cavities, or enlarged lymph nodes, which may suggest pulmonary TB. However, an X-ray alone cannot confirm a TB diagnosis and additional tests are needed.
- Sputum Culture: This involves collecting a sample of sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs) and culturing it in a laboratory to detect the presence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria. It helps confirm the diagnosis of active TB and also determines the strain's susceptibility to specific antibiotics.
- Molecular Testing: Techniques such as nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs), including the GeneXpert MTB/RIF assay, detect the genetic material (DNA) of the TB bacteria directly from sputum samples. These tests provide rapid results, can detect drug resistance, and are particularly useful in diagnosing pulmonary TB.
- Other Tests: In certain cases, additional tests may be performed, such as bronchoscopy (using a flexible tube with a camera to view the airways) or biopsy (removal of a tissue sample for examination), to obtain further evidence for diagnosing TB.
How is Tuberculosis Treated?
Tuberculosis (TB) is treated with a combination of antibiotics taken over a specified duration. The specific treatment regimen and duration depend on several factors, including the type of TB infection (active TB or latent TB), drug susceptibility of the bacteria, and the individual's medical history. Treatment for TB aims to kill the bacteria, prevent the development of drug resistance, and minimize the risk of transmission. Here are the key components of TB treatment:
- Active TB Treatment:
- First-line drugs: The standard treatment for drug-susceptible TB involves a combination of antibiotics taken for at least six months. The most common first-line drugs include isoniazid, rifampicin, pyrazinamide, and ethambutol. The treatment usually consists of an initial intensive phase (2 months) followed by a continuation phase (4 months).
- Directly Observed Therapy (DOT): TB treatment is often provided under direct observation to ensure medication adherence. This involves healthcare workers or trained individuals directly observing the patient taking their medication.
- Drug-resistant TB: If the TB bacteria are resistant to the first-line drugs, the treatment regimen is adjusted accordingly. Drug-resistant TB requires a longer treatment duration, often involving second-line drugs and more complex regimens. Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) are more challenging to treat and require specialized care.
- Latent TB Infection (LTBI) Treatment:
- Individuals with LTBI who are at a high risk of progressing to active TB may be recommended treatment to prevent the development of active disease.
- The most common regimen for LTBI treatment involves a course of isoniazid taken daily for 6 to 9 months. Alternatively, a combination of isoniazid and rifapentine can be taken once weekly for 3 months.
- Supportive Therapy:
- In addition to antibiotics, supportive therapy may be provided to manage symptoms and improve the individual's overall health. This may include addressing nutritional needs, managing side effects of medications, and addressing complications or comorbidities.
- Regular Monitoring and Follow-up:
- During TB treatment, regular monitoring of the individual's response to treatment, adherence to medication, and potential side effects is essential. Follow-up visits and tests, such as sputum cultures, may be conducted to assess treatment effectiveness.
Successful completion of the full course of treatment is crucial to ensure cure and prevent the development of drug resistance. It is important to follow healthcare professionals' guidance, take medications as prescribed, and maintain good communication with the healthcare team throughout the treatment process.
What can you do to prevent spreading Tuberculosis?
To prevent the spread of tuberculosis (TB), it is important to follow certain measures to minimize the risk of transmitting the bacteria to others. Here are some key strategies to prevent the spread of TB:
- Complete Treatment: If you have been diagnosed with active TB, it is crucial to adhere to the prescribed treatment regimen and complete the full course of antibiotics as directed by your healthcare provider. This will help kill the bacteria and reduce the risk of spreading TB to others.
- Take Precautions with Respiratory Hygiene: When coughing, sneezing, or even talking, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets containing TB bacteria. Dispose of used tissues properly and wash your hands afterward.
- Practice Good Hand Hygiene: Regularly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing, sneezing, or touching your face. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Maintain Respiratory Etiquette: Encourage individuals with symptoms of respiratory infection, such as persistent cough, to seek medical evaluation and avoid close contact with others, especially in crowded places or confined spaces.
- Promote Ventilation: Ensure adequate ventilation in indoor spaces, as well-ventilated areas help disperse infectious particles and reduce the concentration of bacteria in the air.
- Use Masks: If you have active TB and need to be in close contact with others, consider wearing a surgical mask to minimize the release of infectious droplets into the air. Similarly, individuals who are at higher risk of acquiring TB, such as healthcare workers, may use respiratory protective devices like N95 masks.
- Educate and Inform Close Contacts: Inform your close contacts, such as household members, about your TB diagnosis so that they can take necessary precautions and undergo screening or testing if recommended.
- Vaccination: BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) is a vaccine used in some countries to prevent severe forms of TB, particularly in children. However, its effectiveness in preventing pulmonary TB, which is the most common form, varies and is not routinely recommended in countries with low TB incidence.
It's important to note that individuals with latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) should also take precautions to prevent the progression to active TB and reduce the risk of transmission. This includes discussing LTBI treatment options with healthcare professionals and adhering to treatment as recommended.
Public health efforts, such as contact tracing, screening, and early detection of TB cases, are also crucial in preventing the spread of TB at a community level.
Consult with healthcare professionals and follow the specific guidelines and recommendations from local health authorities for preventing the spread of TB in your region.
Is there a vaccine to prevent Tuberculosis?
Yes, there is a vaccine available to prevent tuberculosis (TB) called the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine. The BCG vaccine is derived from a weakened strain of Mycobacterium bovis, a bacterium related to the bacteria that cause TB.
The BCG vaccine is primarily used in countries with a high burden of TB, where it is given to infants to provide protection against severe forms of TB, such as TB meningitis and disseminated TB. It is often administered soon after birth or during early childhood.
However, it is important to note that the BCG vaccine does not provide complete protection against pulmonary TB, which is the most common form of TB worldwide. The effectiveness of the BCG vaccine in preventing pulmonary TB in adolescents and adults varies and is generally lower in regions with a high incidence of TB.
The BCG vaccine may have some additional benefits, such as reducing the risk of certain complications of TB and providing partial protection against other mycobacterial infections, like leprosy.
What is the outlook (prognosis) for someone with Tuberculosis?
The prognosis for individuals with tuberculosis (TB) can vary depending on several factors, including the type and severity of TB infection, timely diagnosis, adherence to treatment, overall health status, and access to healthcare resources. With proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment, the prognosis for TB is generally good.
Here are some key points regarding the prognosis of TB:
- Active TB: With early detection and appropriate treatment, the majority of people with active TB can be cured. The prognosis is typically better for individuals with drug-susceptible TB, where the TB bacteria are susceptible to first-line antibiotics. Adhering to the full course of treatment is essential to achieve a successful outcome.
- Drug-Resistant TB: Individuals with drug-resistant TB, such as multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) or extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), face more complex and challenging treatment regimens. The prognosis for drug-resistant TB depends on various factors, including the extent of drug resistance, treatment options available, and the individual's response to treatment. Treatment for drug-resistant TB often requires longer durations (up to 20 months or more) and may involve second-line antibiotics, which can have more side effects.
- Latent TB Infection (LTBI): LTBI does not cause symptoms and is not contagious. In most cases, treatment of LTBI is successful in preventing the progression to active TB. Treating LTBI significantly reduces the risk of developing active TB in the future.
- Overall Health and Immune Status: The prognosis for TB can be influenced by the individual's overall health and immune status. People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, or other medical conditions, may have a higher risk of developing severe or disseminated TB and may require more intensive management.
- Complications: In some cases, TB can lead to complications, such as pleural effusion (fluid accumulation in the space around the lungs), tuberculous meningitis (TB infection in the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord), or organ damage. The prognosis for TB-related complications can vary and may require specialized management.
Individuals with TB should work closely with healthcare professionals to ensure proper management, receive appropriate support, and address any concerns or complications that may arise during the course of treatment.
Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It primarily affects the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body. TB remains a global health concern, with millions of new cases and deaths reported each year.
Diagnosis involves a combination of tests, such as tuberculin skin tests, blood tests, chest X-rays, and sputum cultures. Treatment for TB involves a combination of antibiotics taken over several months, tailored based on drug susceptibility. Adherence to treatment is vital to ensure a successful outcome.