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Incubation Period of TB

Incubation Period of TB

Tuberculosis bacteria remain dormant for a long time before active symptoms develop. Know what is the incubation period for TB, in this article.
Ashwini Kulkarni Sule
Tuberculosis or TB was a leading cause of death in early nineteenth century. It was number one cause of death in children aged 1 to 4. However, better living conditions and easy access to medical care helped in eradication of this disease from the US by 1960. Very few cases of TB were reported thereafter. However, this disease has been slowly making a comeback as the cases of HIV are on rise. HIV compromises your immune system to a great extent and makes you susceptible to various diseases and infections, including TB.
What is the Incubation Period of TB?
Tuberculosis is caused due to slow dividing bacteria. As a result, it takes the infection several months to years to develop active symptoms for the disease. However, within 2 to 12 weeks of exposure to the bacteria, a person may develop a primary infection to lungs. Incidentally, this infection is asymptotic, meaning it does not produce any symptom at all. A chest X-ray at this time shows no infection to lungs. The only way of detecting an infection is a tuberculin skin test, which looks for antibodies against tuberculosis bacteria. This test can successfully confirm if the patient has been exposed to TB bacteria or not. Usually, primary infection is taken care of by the person's immune system within 6 to 8 weeks of exposure to the bacteria.
People with compromised immune system, children and elderly may not be able to ward off the infection on their own. In such cases, a treatment is required to eradicate the infection completely. If the infection is not treated during the primary stage, then active symptoms may develop later in life. In a healthy person, active TB disease symptoms may develop after a decade or so, while those with weakened immune system may develop symptoms earlier.
The tuberculosis bacteria remains dormant for a long time. In reactivation tuberculosis, the infection strikes back when the body's immune system lowers its guard. While other infections, illnesses compromise body's immune system, TB bacteria seek this opportunity to make a comeback. If the infection spreads to other organs apart from the respiratory organs, then an extensive medical treatment may be required.
How is TB Transmitted?
Tuberculosis bacteria is present in the expectoration matter (phlegm) of the infected person. When a TB infected person coughs or sneezes, the air surrounding him is filled with bacteria encapsulated in phlegm. When a healthy person breathes this air, the bacteria can easily enter his body. As evident, the mode of transmission of this infection is very convenient. This is the reason why tuberculosis infection spreads so quickly from one person to other. However, one must note that only a person who shows active symptoms is capable of transmitting the infection. Passively infected people and those on treatment cannot infect others.
How is TB Treated?
Active symptoms of TB include persistent fever, fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, coughing etc. In severe cases of infection, a person may bleed internally or droplets of blood can be found in phlegm. Treatment for TB usually includes a course of antibiotic drugs. A person may be required to take these medications daily for 6 months. This treatment is sufficient to eradicate the bacteria completely from your system. However, if you perform a tuberculin skin test after recovering from infection, you will still get it as positive. This is because the test checks for antibodies and not bacteria itself. These antibodies will remain with you for the rest of your life, hence you will always test positive.
This was all about tuberculosis incubation period. Due to long incubation period, it may be difficult to detect this infection. However, if you suspect a possible exposure, then it is best to get a tuberculin test done.