Tuberculosis (TB): Types, Causes, Symptoms and Risk Factors

Tuberculosis is a potentially severe diseases of the lungs, it is an infection caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) and it is contagious, it is released into the air in the form of tiny droplets through sneezes and coughs.

Tuberculosis is still a health concern worldwide despite strong control programs. It is among the top 10 causes of deaths worldwide and it is a leading killer of people infected with HIV/AIDS.

Many strains of the bacterial causing tuberculosis are resistant to the antibiotic used in treating this condition but TB is a treatable and curable condition.

Active TB is treated over the course of 6 months using 4 antimicrobial drugs. These drugs are taken under the supervision of a trained volunteer or medical personnel.

TB can be cured if the medicines are taken strictly according to prescriptions and are not abused.

Types of Tuberculosis

When you get infected with the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, your body can harbor this germ and your immune system can fight it and prevent you from becoming ill if you have a strong immune system.

Tuberculosis is of two types based on the explanation above and there are:

Active TB: In this condition, the patient gets sick and even transfers it to others. Active TB occurs in the first few weeks after being infected with the bacteria and is some cases, it might occur years later.

Latent TB: In this condition, an individual may have TB infection and not fall sick or have any symptom because the bacteria are inactive in the body. It can remain inactive for a long time in the body and it is not contagious.

This type of TB is also called inactive TB, treatment is still required because the bacteria can be activated at any time. If you have latent TB, it is important you get treated, this will prevent activation of the bacteria and even reduce the risks of you spreading it to others.

It is estimated that almost 2 billion people have latent TB. You can read more about the types of tuberculosis on our more detailed section.

Signs and Symptoms of Active Tuberculosis

  • A cough that lasts over three weeks
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing out blood
  • Chills
  • Chest pain
  • Night sweats
  • Feeling pains when breathing and coughing
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • A general feeling of tiredness and fatigue

Tuberculosis also affects vital organs of the body such as the brain, spinal cord, and kidneys. The signs and symptoms of tuberculosis will vary when it occurs outside the lungs and this depends on the organ involved.

For instance, tuberculosis of the spinal cord can give symptoms like back pain while that of the kidneys can make your urine bloody.

Causes of Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is spread by bacteria and it spreads between people when microscopic droplets are released into the air through singing, laughing, spiting, sneezing, speaking, and coughing.

Tuberculosis is not easily contacted even though it is contagious, it can easily be contacted when you live or work with someone that has it, and you can hardly get it from a stranger.

Also, most people with active TB who have been treated with drugs for at least 2 weeks are not contagious. The case of tuberculosis has been on the increase since the 1980s because of the spread of HIV.

Risk Factors of Tuberculosis

Anyone can be infected with tuberculosis but some people are at higher risks of this infection than others. Certain factors are responsible for this and some of them are:

A Weak Immune System

A healthy immune system is important to fight off this infection while a weak immune system puts you at risks of TB and makes your body unable to fight off TB germs.

There are a number of factors and disease conditions that weaken your immune system and make your resistance ineffective, they include:

  • Aged people and young children
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Malnutrition
  • Diabetes
  • Some medications like the ones used in treating Psoriasis, crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Severe kidney disease
  • Drugs used to suppress the immune system, for instance in the case of an organ transplant to prevent organ rejection
  • Certain cancers
  • Chemotherapy and other forms of cancer treatment

Living or Traveling To Risky Areas

Some countries are known for high cases of tuberculosis and people who live there or travels there are at a high risk of contracting this infection. Some of these places are Africa, Caribbean Islands, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Russia, and Asia.

Substance and Poverty

Substance abuse such as the use of tobacco weaken your immune system and this will greatly increase your risk of contracting TB and even dying of it especially if you have a weak immune system.

Also, the use of IV drug and excessive drinking weakens your immune system and make you susceptible to TB. Poverty can make you unable to buy good foods and eat, this can lead to malnutrition, one of the common wreckers of a strong immune system.

Poverty also makes it difficult to access good health care and treatment when ill of TB.

Where you live or Work

Your residence or workplace can also put you at risk of TB, people living with someone infected with Tb are at a high risk of this infection. Also, living in an area or country where TB is common also poses a great risk to your health.

Health care workers are also at a high risk of TB infection because they have regular contact with people who are ill of TB and this increases their chances of exposure to the bacteria causing TB.

They have to wear a facemask and wash their hands frequently to reduce their risk of contracting TB. People who also work or live in residential care facilities like nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals, homeless shelters, and prisons are at high risk of contracting TB.

The risk of tuberculosis is always high where there is poor ventilation and overcrowding.

Reasons Why Tuberculosis is Deadly

HIV is an infection that weakens the immune system and makes the individual susceptible to a lot of health problems including tuberculosis. The immune system is unable to defend the body and fight off these bacteria in people with HIV because HIV suppresses the immune system.

Also, people with HIV are more prone to active people than people who are not.

Another reason why tuberculosis is deadly and still remain a major killer worldwide despite strong measures put in place is the increasing rate of resistant the bacteria has towards tuberculosis drugs.

The antibiotics used in treating tuberculosis were made over 60 years ago, some of the bacteria responsible for TB are resistant to these drugs and they have even passed on this trait to their descendants. These germs become resistant to antibiotic when the drug fails to kill of them.

The bacteria that survives become resistant to that particular antibiotic used other antibiotics as well. Some bacteria are resistant to the most commonly used drugs such as Rifampin and Isoniazid.

Some strains of TB bacteria have also developed resistance to less common drugs used in treating tuberculosis such as injectable drugs like capastat and amikacin and fluroquinolones. These medications are used to treat TB infections that are resistant to commonly used antibiotics.

What To Do if You Have Tuberculosis?

If you suspect you have contracted the TB bacteria, see a doctor immediately, special blood tests and TB skin tests will be carried out to diagnose the presence of TB germs in the body.

If the result is positive, treatment will commence immediately and this treatment will depend on the type of TB, whether it is active or latent TB. The doctor will prescribe preventive therapy in the case of latent TB, this drugs will prevent the activation of these germs and also prevent the spread of TB.

Different antibiotics will be prescribed in the case of active TB, these will kill off all the germs in your body. These drugs will be taken for at least 6 to 9 months because the bacteria are stubborn and it takes at least 6 months to completely get rid of them.

In the beginning of your treatment, you will be asked to stay at home, you are not to go to school, work, or visit. This will prevent you from infecting others. You will have to separate from your friends, classmates, and family.

Always cover your mouth using a tissue when you sneeze or cough which you will dispose in a closed plastic bag. Make sure your room is well ventilated and don’t stay in crowded places because it is easier for the bacteria to spread and infect others in crowded areas and rooms with poor ventilation.

A few weeks after you’ve started your treatment, you can now go to school, work, and mingle with people because you are no more infectious, and you will even feel better. Your doctor will let you know when you are no longer infectious.

Make sure you take your drugs as prescribed by the doctor and do not skip any dose. If you don’t follow the prescription strictly or you stop taking it, you can get sick again, and at this time, the germs can become resistant to the drugs.

This will make it harder to treat when you start the drugs again. If you want to take your drugs properly, you can ask for Directly Observed Therapy (DOT).

This involves meeting with a health care professional every day or few times every week either in your house or at a location agreed upon, you will take your medication before this person just to ensure that you are not skipping doses.

The health care worker will also be checking for side effects and answer any questions you ask. If you are not comfortable with DOT, then you have to create a routine around taking your drugs. Few ways to do it includes:

  • Pick a hobby or a daily activity and take your medicines when you do that, some activities like brushing your teeth, eating breakfasts, or putting in your contact lenses can remind you to take your drugs.
  • Ask a family member or a friend to remind you
  • Mark the calendar each day after you take your drug
  • You can also make use of a weekly pill dispenser

Complications of Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis can be fatal when not treated promptly and very well. It will affect your lungs and spread to other parts of your body through your blood. Some of the complications tuberculosis cause in the human body are:

  • Heart Disorders: In rare occasions, untreated TB can infect the tissues surrounding your heart, this will lead to fluid retention and inflammation which will definitely affect the ability of your heart to pump blood. This is called cardiac tamponade and it is highly fatal.
  • Spinal Pain: Tuberculosis make your back stiff and it also induces spinal cord pains
  • Kidney or Liver problems: These your major organs of detoxification are affected by untreated TB, this infection impair the ability of these organs to function effectively.
  • Joint Damage: Tuberculosis can affect the knees and hips.
  • Meningitis: This condition is characterized by the inflammation of the membranes covering the brain, it can be triggered by TB and it leads to a lasting headache that persists for weeks. Mental changes might also be noticed in the patients.

People who should be screened for latent TB infection

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend certain people who are at risks of tuberculosis to be tested for latent TB. These groups of people are:

  • People with HIV/AIDS and other immune problems
  • People who use IV drugs
  • People who are in constant contact with infected individuals
  • People from countries with a high rate of TB such as Asia, Africa, and America.
  • People who live or work in places where TB are common like in nursing homes and prisons
  • People who work in hospital and treat people with TB
  • Children who are exposed to adults with a high risk of TB

Sources;

  1. Tuberculosis; WHO
  2. Tuberculosis (TB) Disease: Symptoms and Risk Factors; CDC
  3. Medicinal Plants Used for the Treatment of Tuberculosis by Bapedi Traditional Healers in Three Districts of the Limpopo Province, South Africa; NCBI
  4. Ancient Chinese malaria remedy fights TB; Science Daily
  5. Toll-Like Receptor Triggering of a Vitamin D-Mediated Human Antimicrobial Response; Science Daily
  6. Composition of three essential oils, and their mammalian cell toxicity and antimycobacterial activity against drug resistant-tuberculosis and nontuberculous mycobacteria strains. NCBI
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