Understanding the Basics: Tuberculosis (Overview)

Overview | History | Signs and symptoms | Risk | Causes | Diagnosis | Major Complications



Tuberculosis, also known as TB, is a serious bacterial infection, affecting lungs. It can also spread to different organs of our body through the lymph nodes and bloodstream.

It is a contagious disease. Bacteria, which cause tuberculosis, spread through tiny drops, spread into the air due to coughing and sneezing.

If a person is close quarters with someone who has active disease, might get infected. These people never develop symptoms because the bacteria live in an inactive form.

They may not show any signs of infection and won’t spread the disease to others unless their disease becomes active. The immune system may get weaken if the person is having HIV, or if he is an elderly adult. In this case, TB bacteria can become active.

Proper medication can help to get rid of both active and inactive bacteria.

Several tuberculosis resists drugs were used to uproot this disease. People with active tuberculosis had several types of medicines for a long period of time. These drugs are to uproot the infection and prevent from developing antibiotic resistance.

History of Tuberculosis

Evidences found from the Egyptian mummies proved that there is a long History behind the disease “Tuberculosis”.

During the 18th and 19th century, TB broke down to Europe and North America. A German microbiologist Robert Koch discovered the cause and treatment of tuberculosis in 1882.

TB began to rise and becomes a worldwide disease. The first time this disease was labeled by the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO declared TB as a “global emergency disease”.

It’s fortunate, with proper research and proper treatment, it is the belief that the disease is almost defeated. Due to the strong control on tuberculosis, it began to decrease in 1993 but still remains a concern.

Signs and Symptoms of TB

Your immune system usually can prevent you from falling sick even if your body may Pier bacteria causing tuberculosis.

So, doctors have made a clear division between:

Latent TB

  • It is also called inactive TB. In this condition, bacteria remains inactive in the infected person’s body. Hence, patients do not show any symptoms.
  • But, it is important for the person to go for a treatment and helps control the spread of TB. 2 billion estimated people are having Latent Tb.

Active TB

In this condition, active bacteria make a person fall sick and become contagious.

Immediately seek a doctor when you observe these signs and symptoms.

  • When coughing lasts three or more weeks
  • when blood is coming along with coughs
  • Pain while breathing or coughing, chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of weight
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Chills or Night Sweats
  • Often these signs can be possible from other medical problems. Seek a doctor immediately. Doctor will detect the cause by performing blood tests.

TB can also spread to different organs of our body, such as kidneys, spine or brain. signs and symptoms may differ according to the organ involved.

TB in the spine may give you backache or TB in the kidney may cause blood in the urine.

Who else have higher contamination risk?

A person having a low immune system has increased risk of Tuberculosis. The low immune body cannot fight with the bacteria causing TB. The immune system may become weak due to many diseases.

Disease Control and Prevention centers recommend these people to screen for latent TB infection.

Anyone can have Tuberculosis. Certain factors can have more risk of having Tuberculosis.
Factors who have higher contamination risk:

  • Cancers
  • IV (chemo-therapy) drug users
  • Diabetic patients
  • Kidney disease
  • Suffering from HIV (AIDS)
  • Elderly adults
  • Malnourished person
  • Specific drug users to treat rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis
  • Those having day-to-day contact with infected persons
  • Health care workers; as they treat active TB people.
  • Consuming adequate alcohol
  • Tobacco User


Active TB patient release bacteria causing TB into the air while coughs, speaks, sneezes, spits, laughs or sings.

A person, when close quarters with someone who has active disease, might get infected.
TB can spread person to person but, it’s not easy to catch. So, always take proper precautions.

Connections between HIV and TB

Since 1980, due to the spread of HIV (AIDS), TB has also increased. HIV infected person suppressed the immune system. It makes the body difficult to fight against TB bacteria.
Hence, people affecting HIV have a higher risk to get TB as compared.

Rapid resistant to Drug

About 60 yrs ago, the first antibiotic came up uproot TB. TB bacteria developed the resistance to survive, which passed on to their heirs.

This became another major reason, TB still remains the major issues.

Areas having high rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis

There are countries having high rates of tuberculosis and drug-resistant tuberculosis. While traveling or living in these countries may increase the higher risk of contamination. Areas affecting TB include:

  • Asia
  • Africa
  • Eastern Europe
  • Russia
  • Latin America
  • Caribbean Islands

How your Living environment affects Tuberculosis

Due to the lack of medical care, some people are having Tuberculosis.

  • People living in low income group, in a remote area, or are homeless may lack access to proper medical attention and diagnose.
  • People working in hospitals or in health care centers contact with sick people, exposure to TB bacteria, are in the risk of TB.
  • Wearing a mask and globes and washing hands always can prevent from the risk of TB.
  • People working in or living in prisons, immigration centers or nursing homes are all at a higher risk of tuberculosis.
  • People living or working in a overcrowding place having poor ventilation are all at a higher risk of tuberculosis.
  • People living in refugee camp in an unsanitary conditions are all at a higher risk of tuberculosis.
  • People having poor nutrition and ill health are also at a higher risk of tuberculosis.

Proper Diagnosis

Proper diagnosis helps to uproot Tuberculosis. First, your doctor perform physical examination.

Your doctor will examine your swelling lymph nodes. He will listen to the sounds of your lungs while you breathe with a stethoscope.

the Second examination can be a simple skin test, followed by a blood test, Imagine test or sputum test.

Skin Test

  • PDP tuberculin is a substance which is injected in a small amount just under the skin. A thin needle is used to prick the skin of your inside forearm.
  • Health care professional will check your arm for swelling within 42 to 72 hours after injection.
  • The size of bumps determine TB. The big hard raised red bumps indicate that you are having TB.
  • Results can be wrong

The result of a TB skin test may be wrong at times.

The report may indicate a false-positive test while you are not having TB. If a person is vaccinated with the bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine in a recent period of time, the report may indicate a false-positive.

It may also indicate a false-negative test while you really have.

This happens to the children, older people and the people having a low immune system. People don’t respond to the medicine injected if he is having AIDS.

The result may indicate negative to the people who are recently infected with TB.

Blood tests

A blood test is useful when you have a negative response to the skin test. Or if you have received BCG vaccine. A blood test is useful to confirm whether the patients are having Latent TB or Active TB bacteria. This test checks your immune system’s reaction to TB bacteria.

Imaging tests

  • After having positive skin test, you doctor will advice you to perform a chest X-ray or a CT scan.
  • This test will show white spots in your lungs if your immune system does not react with TB bacteria.
  • CT scan shows more detailed image than X-rays.

Sputum tests

  • Your doctor may tell you to take samples of your sputum for diagnosis.
  • Sputum is the mucus that comes out along with your cough.
  • This sample are tested to determine TB bacteria.
  • This sample also helps doctor to test for the desired drug to be given.
  • This test takes a long time to show result (our to eight weeks).

Hope this will bring a good information on “World Tuberculosis Day” (24th March) to frame the awareness regarding tuberculosis throughout the world.

“Win The Fight Before It Starts…..Test For TB”

Some major complications

Tuberculosis can be curable but without treatment, it can be dangerous too.

  • It can affect lungs and kill the tissues.
  • It can even spread to other organs through lymph nods and blood stream.
  • TB in spinal cord cause back pain and stiffness.
  • It may damage joints and affects hips and knees.
  • TB can cause meningitis in brain. It can cause long lasting headache.
  • It can also cause mental change.
  • TB can damage your liver and kidney as well.
  • TB can also cause heart disorders by infecting the tissues, surrounding heart.

Proper treatment can cure a patients while lack of treatment can be fatal.

We celebrate “World Tuberculosis Day” on 24th March to frame awareness on tuberculosis throughout the world.

“Every Breath Counts – Stop TB Now!”

Content Reviewed by – Asian Hospital Medical Editors