Tuberculosis (often called “TB”) is an infectious disease that has been around for centuries, perhaps even as far back as ancient Egyptian times. The cause of the disease – Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria – was discovered in 1882, and antibiotics able to cure tuberculosis were developed in the 1940s.
Despite this, tuberculosis is still a disease that afflicts people around the world, including in the United States. The World Health Organization reported that, in 2018, 1.5 million people died from TB worldwide. While statistics show a decline of infections in the United States, there were still over 9,000 cases reported in 2018.
Virginia Premier supports the World Health Organization’s goal to eliminate TB by raising awareness of the disease.
How is TB spread?
TB is spread through the air when a person infected with the talks, coughs or sneezes. Anyone who has TB is most likely to spread the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria to people they spend a lot of time with, such as family members, friends, co-workers or students.
There are two types of TB infection:
- Latent tuberculosis (TB) – The bacterium is in the body in an inactive state. The infected person does not feel sick, shows no symptoms and can not transmit the disease to others. However, the bacterium could become active at any point.
- Active tuberculosis (TB) – The infected person is sick and showing symptoms. They are contagious and can transmit the disease to others.
Some people develop active TB within weeks after becoming infected. Other people may get sick years later, when their immune system becomes weakened by another condition. Many people with TB never develop active TB.
People with diabetes, HIV and undeveloped or weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of developing active TB if infected.
What are the symptoms of active TB?
A person with active TB disease may have any or all of the following symptoms:
- Constant fatigue despite getting plenty of sleep
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Night sweats and a low-grade fever
- Chest pains associated with the lungs
- Persistent cough lasting more than three weeks that is sometimes accompanied by coughing up blood
- Difficulty breathing
These symptoms can be cause by a variety of medical conditions, so it is important to see a health care provider promptly to rule out the possibility of TB.
Getting the TB skin test
If you think you have been exposed to TB, get a TB test.
The TB skin test is the most common way doctors diagnose tuberculosis. They will inject a tiny amount of fluid – called “tuberculin” – just below the skin in your forearm. A couple of days later, you will be asked to return to your doctor to see if you’ve had a reaction.
If you have a raised, hard bump or there’s swelling on your arm, you have a positive test, which means TB germs are present in your body. (This doesn’t necessarily mean you have active TB disease, however. Your doctor may request a chest x-ray to look at your lungs.)
If you don’t have a reaction, your test is negative. You don’t have TB germs in your body.
What if I have TB?
If you’re infected, please know that TB is treatable, so long as you’re properly diagnosed. Without the proper treatment, TB can be fatal.
So be sure to speak with your doctor and discuss any symptoms you’re having. If you do have TB, your doctor will discuss the right treatment for you.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: cdc.gov/tb