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Tuberculosis: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What is Tuberculosis?

TB (tuberculosis) is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attacks your lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of your body, such as your kidney, spine, or brain. Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. As a result, two TB-related conditions exist; LTBI (latent TB infection) and TB disease. If not treated properly, tuberculosis can be fatal.

How is TB transmitted? What happens if I get a TB infection? 

If someone who has TB coughs, the germ that causes TB can spread in the small drops of fluid that will spray with that cough. If you inhale these drops, you can get infected with TB. If that happens, you probably won’t get sick immediately. Your immune system will start killing the TB germs, and if your body is successful in controlling the infection, you will not get sick. You will then have what is called “latent TB,” however you may become ill with TB at a later time in your life. 

If you get symptomatic with your TB infection, you have “active TB.” Your symptoms may include fever, chronic cough, night sweats, and unintentional weight loss. If you have been near someone who is known to have TB, or if you have a cough lasting longer than three weeks for no apparent reason, you should tell your doctor about that for them to assess your risk of TB. 

What tests are available for TB?

For latent TB, there are two tests available: 

  • Skin test: your doctor will order a shot in your arm that contains pieces of the dead TB germ. If a bump develops after two days, your doctor can assess if you have latent TB depending on how big the bump is. If your test turns positive, you will likely need more tests to determine that you don’t have active TB.
  • Blood test: There are two IGRA (interferon-gamma release assays) TB (Tuberculosis) tests that the FDA approves in the United States: Quantiferon-TB Gold Plus (QFT-Plus) and TB-Spot (T-Spot) test.

If your TB test comes back positive, that means that TB bacteria have infected you at some point in your life. Your doctor will order additional tests to determine if you have active TB or latent TB. If your test for TB comes back negative, this means that your body didn’t react to the test, and that is it unlikely that you have either active or latent TB. 

What is the treatment for TB?

  • Latent TB: medicines are typically needed for three months or longer. 
  • Active TB: medicines are typically needed for a total of six months or longer.

TB is a severe disease, and it can be fatal. It is essential you take your treatment plan very seriously.

Do you think you have TB? Call our Pulmonary Clinic at (978) 254-4983 to get scheduled as soon as possible. Click here to Contact Us. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911.