Health

Tuberculosis: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment In 2024

Many people believe that tuberculosis disease is a thing of the past, an illness that no longer serves as a threat, or better still it isn’t trending. However, there are still breakout cases in several parts of the world. This article encourages people to take action by getting tested for TB infection if they’re at risk.

Overview

An image of the tuberculosis bacteria

Tuberculosis, also known as TB is a serious illness that is spread through the air from one person to another. It’s an illness that mainly affects the lungs. The germs that cause tuberculosis are a type of bacteria. When a person with pulmonary TB disease coughs or sneezes, TB bacteria are expelled into the air in tiny water droplets. These droplets can remain floating in the air for several hours, making it inevitable for someone nearby to inhale them. 

Once a person has breathed in the droplets, the bacteria will travel down their trachea and enter the lungs where they gather in the alveolar sacs. Once they’re in the alveolar sacs, the bacteria will begin to multiply. The body’s immune system starts working and macrophages begin to surround the bacteria. A granuloma is formed to keep the bacteria from spreading, and the TB bacteria remain in the lungs, but the rest of the body is protected from disease by the granuloma. 

In 8-10 weeks, the person will most likely test positive for latent TB infection, and it can progress from an infection to a person becoming sick with TB disease when the granuloma breaks open and the TB bacteria starts multiplying. This person then becomes infectious with TB diseases. This progression can happen immediately after infection, years later, or not at all. 

Tuberculosis spreads easily in crowded places or crowded gatherings. Those with HIV/AIDS and other people with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of catching it rather than those with a typical immune system. 

A Very Small Information To Note

When the TB escapes from the granuloma and starts to destroy a person’s lung, it’s called Pulmonary TB. However, TB bacteria can also enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body, such as the joints, lymph nodes, and the pleura, and then it becomes extrapulmonary TB. 

Causes 

Tuberculosis is caused by a rod-shaped bacterium, or a bacillus, called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. People with active TB disease in the lungs or voice box can spread the disease. An infection occurs when an infected person speaks, sings, coughs, sneezes, or laughs, and a second party inhales the air. The infected person releases tiny droplets that carry the bacteria through the air, so when you inhale it you can get infected. 

The disease spreads faster when people spend a lot of time together in an indoor space. So, the disease will easily spread in places like work or home settings basically, where people can be around each other for a long period. However, a person with a latent TB infection cannot pass the disease to other people. A person taking drugs to treat active TB disease usually can’t pass the disease after 2 to 3 weeks of treatment. 

Risk Factors 

Anyone can get tuberculosis, but there certain factors that can make a person prone to getting an infection. Other factors can increase the chances of an infection becoming active TB disease 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people who have an increased risk of TB or active TB disease to test for TB. If you know that you have one or more of the following risk factors, visit your doctor. 

Risk factors of tuberculosis infection 

  • Living with someone with active TB disease 
  • Residing or traveling in a country where tuberculosis is common. For example, countries like Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific islands.
  • Staying or working in places where people live close together, such as nursing homes, prisons, shelters for homeless people.
  • Living in a community identified as being at high risk of tuberculosis.
  • Working in health care or treating people with a high risk of tuberculosis. 

The Risk Factors Of Active TB Disease 

  • HIV-AIDS
  • Diabetes
  •  Chronic kidney damage
  • Malnutrition or low-body weight 
  • Cancers of the head, neck, and blood 
  • Chemotherapy 
  • Misuse of alcohol 
  • Long-term use of prescription steroids 
  • Drugs to prevent rejection or transplanted organs 
  • Smoking and using other tobacco products 
  • Air Pollution 
  • Use of illegal injected drugs 

Relationship Between Age and Active Tuberculosis Disease 

The risk of a Tuberculosis infection becoming a pulmonary tuberculosis changes with age.

Under 5 years of age: Before children clock 5 years, they have a high risk of TB infection graduating to active TB disease. The risk is even greater for children under 2 years old. Tuberculosis within this age group usually leads to serious disease in the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal column, called meningitis.

Age 15 to 25: People in this age group have an increased risk of developing a more severe active TB disease in their lungs.

Age 65 and above: The immune system weakens as a person grows older. These adults have a greater risk of active TB disease, and theirs may be more difficult to treat. 

Symptoms Of Active TB

1 . Coughing

A person may cough for several reasons, and a lingering cough, such as the one that’s been around for a couple of months and you just can’t seem to shake off, could mean there’s a problem.

2 . Lose weight

In addition to coughing, a person may start to lose weight, because it’s a chronic infection, which shows there’s a problem in the lung, and that infection consumes energy, as it requires nutrition. So it steals some of the nutrition from food. In the process, the body tries to fight the disease by using a lot of energy. Many patients who suffer from TB, cough, and also lose weight. 

3 . Inflammation

Because the lung is inflamed, the person may experience a low-grade fever, so they may cause the following:

  • chills or shivering 
  • night sweats, especially during the night
  • Symptoms of Extra Pulmonary Tuberculosis 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Persistent fatigue and weakness 
  • Pain or discomfort in the chest when coughing or breathing  deeply 
  • swollen lymph nodes 
  • Not feeling well in general 

Common Sites Of Extra Pulmonary Tuberculosis Outside The Lungs 

  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Heart muscles
  • Lymph nodes
  • Bones and joints 
  • Skin 
  • Fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord 
  • Walls of blood vessels 
  • Voice box 
  • Genitals

Symptoms In Children 

The symptoms in children may vary. However, typical symptoms by age may include the following.

Teenagers: The symptoms here are quite similar to that of adults.

Age one to twelve: These younger children may have a fever that won’t go away and weight loss.

Infants: The baby doesn’t grow as expected and also weight gain seems impossible. Also, the baby may have a swelling in the fluid around the brain or spinal cord, including:

  • Unusually fussy
  • Vomiting 
  • Poor feeding 
  • Poor reflexes 
  • Being sluggish or not active 
  • Bulging soft spot on the head 

Prevention Strategies Against Tuberculosis

Protect other people

Prevent the spread of disease by taking practical steps to keep others safe. You will be on meds for four, six, or nine months, so make sure you take all of them as directed throughout. 

Also, during the first 2 to 3 weeks you’ll be able to pass TB bacteria to others, so be a hero and keep everyone else safe by following these steps:

1 . Staying home, no work or school 

2 . Isolate at home, don’t hang out too much with those at home, and sleep in a separate room. 

3 . Let your room receive air. Tuberculosis germs spread more easily in small, closed spaces, so try to open the windows (if it’s not too cold outside). 

4 . Wear a face mask when you have to be around people whether at home or outdoors. 

5 . Ask other family members at home to wear masks to protect themselves

6 .  Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. However, a tissue to cover your mouth anytime this happens is a better choice. Just put the dirty tissue in a bag, seal it, and throw it away after use.

Get vaccinated 

BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin) vaccination is used in many countries to prevent severe forms of TB, particularly in infants and toddlers. The BCG vaccine may not provide complete protection against disease in the lungs, but it can help reduce the risk of severe disease in children. However, dozens of new TB vaccines are in various stages of development and testing.

Issues That Can Occur With Tuberculosis Treatments

There are some drug-resistant TB. And this means that the drugs that once used to work, wouldn’t anymore. One partial reason is the naturally occurring genetic changes in bacteria. When a bacteria gets a random change in genetics, it may have the ability to resist the attack of an antibiotic, and if successful, it multiplies. 

Another big reason is due to the misuse of antibiotic drugs, or the drugs failing to kill all the bacteria. Sometimes it could be due to the bacteria being in a condition that helps it establish and multiply. And once this bacteria is passed down to other people, a new drug-resistant strain can grow over time. 

Situations That Can Lead To Such Drug-resistant Bacteria.

  • People who didn’t properly follow the directions for taking the drugs stopped taking them
  • Unavailability of drugs 
  • Poor quality of drugs 
  • Wrong prescription 
  • The body didn’t absorb the drugs as expected 

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