What is Tuberculosis and its treatment?

Tuberculosis is an infection caused by slow-growing bacteria that grow best in areas of the body that have lots of blood and oxygen. That’s why it is most often found in the lungs. This is called pulmonary TB. But TB can also spread to other parts of the body, which is called extrapulmonary TB. It takes about 6 to 9 months to treat TB. Tuberculosis is either latent or active. Latent TB means that you have the TB bacteria in your body, but your body’s defenses (immune system) fight the infection and try to keep it from turning into active TB. This means that you don’t have any symptoms of TB right now and can’t spread the disease to others. If you have latent TB, it can become active TB. Active TB means that the TB bacteria are growing and causing symptoms. If your lungs are infected with active TB, it is easy to spread the disease to others.


Tuberculosis is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, slow-growing bacteria that thrive in areas of the body that are rich in blood and oxygen, such as the lungs.

Pulmonary TB is contagious. It spreads when a person who has active TB breathes out air that has the TB bacteria in it and then another person breathes in the bacteria from the air. An infected person releases even more bacteria when he or she does things like cough or laugh.

Who is most at risk for TB?

* Person with illness that weakens their immune system.
* Have close contact with someone who has active TB, such as living in the same house as someone who is infected with TB.


Common symptoms include

* A cough that brings up thick, cloudy, and sometimes bloody mucus from the lungs for more than 2 weeks.
* Tiredness and weight loss.
* Night sweats and a fever.
* A rapid heartbeat.
* Swelling in the neck (when lymph nodes in the neck are infected).

How is it treated?

Most of the time, doctors combine four antibiotics to treat active TB. It’s important to take the medicine for active TB for at least 6 months. Almost all people are cured if they take their medicine just like their doctor says to. If tests still show an active TB infection after 6 months, then treatment continues for another 2 or 3 months. Most people with latent TB are treated with only one antibiotic that they take for 9 months. This reduces their risk for getting active TB.

To avoid getting an active TB infection:

If you live with someone who has active TB, help and encourage the person to follow treatment instructions. Usually, treatment with isoniazid for about 9 months or rifampin for 4 months can prevent a latent TB infection from developing into active TB.

Home Treatment

Not going to work or school while you can spread the TB infection. Eating a balanced diet to provide your body with the nutrients that you need to fight the infection. Covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Until you have been on antibiotics for about 2 weeks, you can easily spread the disease to others. After coughing, dispose of the soiled tissue in a covered container.


Maria G. Essig, MS, ELS

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