TB is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is also called tubercle bacillus. This bacterium is passed through the fine spray of water vapor expelled when a person coughs or sneezes. If there is not enough ventilation, then a person can breathe it in and in doing so, get TB himself. It is possible for nearly one-third of those near a person with TB to get it themselves.
The TB disease is more often spread through coughs and sneezes. In crowded, unsanitary conditions most people who get it have lowered immunity because of other infections (AIDS) or age. In some cases, Tuberculosis symptoms may not appear until later in life because the body's immune system has kept the disease under control until the person becomes elderly and their immune system is somehow lowered. Thus, this disease is common in some nursing homes where there is crowding, and ventilation isn't enough to prevent the spread of TB.
What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is a respiratory disease that is passed to other people through coughing and sneezing over a period of time and where there is little ventilation to prevent it from spreading. At this point the bacteria enter their respiratory system and can spread to other organs if it is not suppressed by the person's immune system. If the person who is exposed to TB is healthy, his immune system is then able to contain the bacteria and the person then has what is called Latent TB, which may become active if their immune system is somehow impaired, either by age or other diseases such as AIDS.
When the person's immune system takes over, it is able to contain the bacteria in small sacs or tubercles in the lungs, thus preventing the bacteria from spreading to other parts of the body where it can cause much damage and even death. If for some reason the body isn't able to stop the spreading of the disease then the bacteria would be spread through the blood to other parts of the body such as the spine, kidneys and female reproductive organs. In addition, a mother is able to spread it to her unborn child.
Signs and Symptoms
When a person's immune system is weakened and he is exposed to TB or has Latent TB, then the disease becomes active. The bacteria then begin to war against the body, and destruction can be rather severe depending both on the level of the person's immunity and the location of the bacteria. The respiratory system is the most common place where the bacteria grow.
- One of the most common symptoms of tuberculosis is cough, which becomes persistent and is accompanied by phlegm and even blood. The coughing becomes more and more prominent with time. The patient becomes weak, loses focus and suffers from fever and sickness often.
- One of the common TB disease symptoms is chills and night sweats. The patient gets in and out of fever and feels uneasy most of the time. Even during cold weather, night sweats becomes a common phenomenon.
- A very common symptom is loss of appetite. A person suffering from tuberculosis has drastic appetite loss which apparently leads to a loss in weight. The person becomes skinny, looks weak and out of strength. Like a cycle, this loss of strength helps the disease to spread faster as the immune system becomes more and more weak and the bacteria becomes stronger.
- Chest pain is a symptom of tuberculosis which causes a great deal of uneasiness to the patient. The activity of breathing becomes more and more difficult with time as the membranes lining the lungs get infected and inflamed by a condition known as Pleurisy. Other symptoms like swelling of lymph glands and other joints of the body impairs movement.
In its active state, TB kills approx. 60% of those who go untreated. Worldwide TB kills approximately three million people every year. Annually there are 20,000 active cases in the US alone. At one time TB was the main cause of death in the US. Medication for this disease has only become available since the 1940s. Before that time it was called "consumption" and people with this disease were isolated in remote sanitariums to prevent it from spreading to others.
In addition, TB results in abnormal chest x-rays and lab results. It also must be remembered that a person with active TB can spread it easily to others nearby. Adequate ventilation is a must. Since the disease is highly contagious, a healthy person meeting or visiting a patient of TB must be on his guard at all times.