Information about tuberculosis

What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is particularly life-threatening. It is a respiratory infection and if left untreated, it can even lead to death.

How tuberculosis is spread

In recent years, the number of TB cases has risen. Population displacements are mainly responsible for this increase. Other reasons include: AIDS, low standard of living and resistance to TB drugs.

TB is mainly spread through inhalation of contaminated droplets produced when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes.

Causes of tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, also called Koch’s bacillus.

Symptoms of tuberculosis

The most common symptoms of tuberculosis are:

  • A persistent cough, with or without sputum production
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • A low fever
  • Repeated colds
  • Persistent pneumonia
  • Presence of blood in the sputum or hemoptysis

Diagnosis of tuberculosis

The Mantoux skin test is used to diagnose tuberculosis. During this test, tuberculin is injected under the skin of the forearm with a very fine needle. According to skin reaction, test results may be positive or negative. A positive result will form a red and swollen circle at the site of the injection.

Moreover, a positive TB result requires additional tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests include a chest X-ray and a bacteriological examination of sputum that allow the isolation and identification of Mycobacterium and a TB drug susceptibility test.

But there are also false positive or false negative TB results. A false-positive test result indicates that a person has tuberculosis, when they actually haven’t. Usually, the causes of these false-positive reactions may include an infection due to other mycobacteria or a vaccination against TB.

TB infection or disease, accompanied by a negative reaction may cause false negative TB results. Other causes of false negative results include a recent tuberculosis infection, a weakened immune system (HIV, carcinomatosis), an infection by viruses -such as measles, rubella, mumps, infectious mononucleosis-, a flu and collagenopathies. They also include technical reasons such as incorrect administration technique, improper storage of tuberculin and wrong reading and recording.

Treatment of tuberculosis

Nowadays, the treatment of tuberculosis is based on early diagnosis and it is a treatable disease. The treatment is long-term (6 months and more) and is based on drugs. Treatment must be completed to be effective.

The antituberculous drugs in common use are isoniazid, rifampicin, pyrazinamide and ethambutol. They are administered simultaneously for the first 2 months and should be taken every day. During the following four months isoniazid and rifampicin are administered. This is the most common treatment for TB.

These drugs may be replaced in case of serious side effects or resistance to TB drugs.

Mild side effects include anorexia, nausea, joint pain and orange discoloration of secretions.

Serious side effects include jaundice, vomiting, and visual problems.

Clinical, ophthalmological and biochemical blood tests are required every 4-6 weeks.

Complications of tuberculosis

If tuberculosis is not diagnosed and treated early, it can cause permanent lung damage. In addition, when the disease is incurable, it can spread to other parts of the body and lead to complications.

Prevention of tuberculosis

Today, tuberculosis is prevented by a childhood vaccine as well as by early diagnosis and treatment in order to avoid the spread of the disease to healthy people.

Close intimate contact with an infected individual does call for preventative measures such as a Mantoux test, a chest X-ray and a sputum culture. Isoniazid should be also taken for 6 to 9 months. Retesting is required after a period of two months.

What specialty

The doctor to treat tuberculosis is the Pulmonologist

Book your appointment with a Pulmonologist