Many people think that TB is a disease of the past - an illness that no longer threatens us today. However, with one third of the world's population estimated to be infected with the bacteria that causes TB, this ancient disease is very much with us today. Among infectious diseases, TB remains the second leading killer in the world, with more than 2 million TB-related deaths each year.
TB bacteria are spread through the air from one person to another, usually when a person with active TB disease coughs or sneezes. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and develop latent TB infection. Many people who have latent TB infection never develop the TB disease. But, in other people, especially children and people with weakened immune systems, the bacteria can become active and cause TB disease.
Active TB disease primarily affects the lungs (73%) but also can grow in the bones, spine, kidneys, and brain or disseminated throughout the body. Only pulmonary TB is contagious when an actively diseased person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms for active TB disease include one or more of the following: Cough for greater than 3 weeks; chest pain; discolored or bloody sputum; recurrent fever or night sweats; appetite and weight loss; generalized weakness and fatigue. These symptoms may progress quickly or extremely slowly.
Once infected, given a normal immune system, there is 10% chance of developing active TB disease during one's life. Certain conditions increase the odds that infection will progress to active disease. HIV infection increases the chances to 10% every year and is considered a major activator. Any condition that suppresses the immune system will increase the chances of activation of latent TB infection. Such conditions include: Chronic conditions and diseases like diabetes and cancers; prolonged corticosteroid therapy; organ transplant and other medical therapy that is combined with immuno-suppressive drugs; and previous active TB disease or recent TB infection.
Certain risk factors in a person or in their lifestyle may make them more likely to contract TB Infection:
TB testing is encouraged if a person has any of these recognized risk factors. TB testing is done using the Mantoux method in which a small amount of protein derived from TB bacillus is placed just under the skin surface. Two or three days later a trained person measures any resulting reaction and, based on identified risk factors, determines if a person is likely to have latent TB infection.
There are relatively few antibiotics that are effective in killing the TB germ and it takes 6 - 12 months of treatment to ensure a cure for active TB disease. It is much easier and safer to treat the latent TB infection. Active TB disease is not only much harder to cure (requiring 4 different drugs) but the scar tissue resulting from the disease remains after the germ is killed which can lead to permanent disability. Also, active TB is difficult to diagnose because it resembles other infective diseases of the lungs. This allows the germ an opportunity to be spread to close contacts, such as family, friends and co-workers.
The Broome County Health Department conducts risk evaluation and TB skin testing during normal business hours, Monday - Friday by appointment. Please call 607.778.2839 to schedule appointments or to get more information. TB-related information is available in 26+ different languages. All services and treatment is billed to third party payers, however, there is no charge to the individual meeting risk factor criteria.
Now is the Time to Eliminate TB!