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Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious bacterial infection that primarily affects the lungs and is spread from person to person via airborne droplets. You can become infected by inhaling these droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, sings, or laughs.

Nearly one-third of the world's population is infected with tuberculosis. In 2011, 9 million people became sick, and 1.4 million died. In the United States, 10,528 cases were reported with the highest rates among people with HIV, minorities and those born in countries were tuberculosis is common.  Overall, the number of cases in the U.S. is decreasing.  Anyone can get tuberculosis, but your risk increases if you have close or prolonged contact with an infected person

Tuberculosis Symptoms

Tuberculosis can remain inactive in your body, a condition known as latent tuberculosis infection.  You are not sick or contagious with latent tuberculosis. However, without preventive treatment, it can lead to active disease and you become very sick and contagious. Symptoms of active tuberculosis disease include:

  • A bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Fever
  • Weakness and unusual tiredness

Tuberculosis can be diagnosed two ways. The first is a blood test called Quantiferon-TB. Results are generally available within several days. The second is the tuberculin skin test, which takes 48-72 hours and a return visit for the reading.

Tuberculosis Prevention

Bacille Calmette-Guèrin (BCG) is a vaccine for tuberculosis, but it is not used in the United States because it does not completely prevent tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis Treatment

If you discover you have latent tuberculosis, you can treat the infection with several months of antibiotics. It's important to stay in touch with your doctor health care provider during treatment to make sure your blood and liver function remains normal.

Active tuberculosis disease is also treated with antibiotics, based on the culture and sensitivity of the bacteria. Often, more than one drug is needed. You must take them according to a strict schedule, usually for 6-12 months. You will be isolated from other people for several weeks until you are no longer contagious. Throughout all the contagious time, the person with tuberculosis disease must not attend class or social events.

If you have active or latent tuberculosis, keep your medical appointments and take medications exactly as prescribed. Also, remember that you can be infected with tuberculosis more than once in your life so pay attention to symptoms.

For more information, please visit the CDC website