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Symptoms and treatment of TB

Tuberculosis is perhaps one of the most well-known chest diseases in the world. For centuries, humans have been battling this disease, and often losing. However, with the modern advance of medication, TB can be easily prevented and treated, ensuring that those who suffer are not facing a death sentence, as used to be the case. Here are some signs, symptoms and treatment options for tuberculosis. It is rare to contract TB in North America these days, but it can be a concern if you are travelling to other countries where the disease is more prevalent.

Causes and Symptoms of Tuberculosis

The primary cause of tuberculosis is the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. These bacteria can be found in a number of places, but are most common in cattle, in developing countries and in immunodeficient people. Mycobacterium is extremely volatile because it is one of the fastest dividing bacteria in the world. This means that TB can be spread quickly, often infecting many organisms within hours. Transmission of the disease is through airborne droplets expelled from the infected person's mouth or nose.

Symptoms of tuberculosis include:

  • Pleurisy
  • Prolonged harsh cough producing bloody sputum (the most well-known symptom of TB)
  • Fever and chills
  • Night sweats
  • Pallor
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

Untreated, tuberculosis may cause eventual death; in fact, it was one of the leading causes of death (and panic) in the world for years.

Tuberculosis Treatment and Diagnosis

Your doctor will determine if you have or have been exposed to tuberculosis by performing a TB skin test. TB tests involve injecting a small amount of a glycerin extract, called tuberculin, under the skin. A person who has been exposed to the virus will mount a positive skin test, whereas a negative skin test means you haven't been exposed. Your doctor may also take chest X-rays and examine the sputum for the Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is relatively easy to diagnose TB using these methods.

If you have TB, treatment begins with antibiotics. You will need to take antibiotics for 6 to 12 months — maybe longer if your TB appears to be drug-resistant. Although people used to be confined when they contracted tuberculosis, this is not the case today.

With treatment, you have a good chance of surviving tuberculosis. If you think or know you have been exposed to TB, see your doctor immediately.

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