Tuberculosis is one of the most prevalent diseases in the world, with around one-third of the population being affected by it. It is caused by a bacterium known as mycobacterium tuberculosis, which usually affects the lungs, but it can spread to other parts of the body, such as brain, kidneys and spine. Tuberculosis can be transmitted from one person to another through air. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, infected bacteria are suspended in the air which when inhaled by a healthy person can cause infection.
Generally, the immune system fights against the pathogens and halts their growth, rendering the bacteria inactive. This condition in which the tuberculosis causing bacteria are alive in the human body in an inactive state is known as latent tuberculosis. Individuals with this type of tuberculosis cannot spread the infection to others, but they are at a risk of developing acute tuberculosis, which is threatening and contagious.
Numerous researches have proved that approximately one in ten latent infections can develop into active tuberculosis, so seeking treatment is absolutely necessary. The progression from latent tuberculosis to active tuberculosis depends on the immune system of an individual. People who have a weak immune-system are at a higher risk of developing active tuberculosis. As latent tuberculosis is non-threatening, there are virtually no symptoms in the early stages. Most people with this condition remain unaware of the fact that they are infected and it is only when the disease progresses to a more threatening stage, that the symptoms start to show up. There are certain groups of people who are at higher risks of developing the disease and it is advised that they should get themselves checked for Latent Tuberculosis Infection (LTBI).
People who have had a family member infected with TB should get themselves screened for tuberculosis. If you have recently traveled to a country where tuberculosis is endemic, it is advisable to get tested for LTBI. Intravenous drug-users, people with HIV/AIDS, silicosis and renal failure patients are other high-risk groups and screening is recommended.
Latent tuberculosis is detected through a skin test, commonly known as the tuberculosis skin test or through a blood test. In tuberculosis skin test, 5 tuberculin units of Purified Protein Derivative (PDD) are injected into the forearm and after approximately, 48-72 hours, the swelling on the forearm is measured to determine LTBI. Blood test for LTBI is another way of detecting infection and it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It uses the Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test to detect the presence of mycobacterium tuberculosis in the blood sample and results are reported as positive or negative.
If tests detect the presence of tuberculosis bacteria in the body, it is important to seek treatment to prevent it from developing into active TB infection. There are numerous treatment options available and a consultation with your doctor would help decide which one would be suitable for you. Patients with this condition are normally put on a nine-month course of isoniazid also known as isonicotinylhydrazine. This drug has the ability to kill inactive bacteria before they become thrive and prove threatening to the body.
A lot of people with this condition are advised to take isoniazid daily without any side-effects appearing, however there are some who have experienced symptoms such as fever, loss in appetite, nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain, skin rash and itchiness. If you too experience any of these symptoms, it is advisable to immediately have a word with your doctor. When you are on medication, you will need to see your doctor regularly, who would monitor your progress. It is important that rigorous instructions are provided to patients about the purpose of treatment and some potential risks, so that they are well aware about their condition and risks the infection poses.
Treatment of latent tuberculosis is very important as it is easier to kill the bacteria when it is inactive or dormant rather than killing it when it is fully active and powerful. As mentioned earlier, latent tuberculosis symptoms are virtually non-existent, most of the patients remain unaware about their condition till the disease progresses to advanced stages. We should all try to get ourselves checked for LTBI, especially people falling in the high-risk category. We hope that this article helps you with some information on this condition. You can do your bit by making your loved ones aware about this disease.