Understanding tuberculosis

Recent local cases of confirmed tuberculosis have heightened anxieties about the often-misunderstood disease. Nearly 50 people in Southern Indiana have tested positive.

Recent local cases of confirmed tuberculosis have heightened anxieties about the often-misunderstood disease. Nearly 50 people in Southern Indiana have tested positive.

Tuberculosis, popularly called TB, is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The disease usually attacks the lungs and is spread through droplets in the air, often by coughing, sneezing and shouting. Once the bacteria are inhaled, the incubation period — the time it takes for a person to become infected after being exposed — varies from weeks to years, depending on the individual and the type of tuberculosis infection.

Not every person infected with TB becomes sick. Called latent tuberculosis infection, the bacteria can live in the body without causing signs or symptoms. Patients with latent TB often have a positive skin test result but show no infection when a chest X-ray is done. These adults and children are not contagious, yet will receive treatment to keep the bacteria at bay.

When the bacteria multiply in the body, infected individuals become sick with TB disease, and they will be contagious. In some cases, the bacteria can spread throughout the lungs and into other organs. Known as progressive tuberculosis, the main signs and symptoms are fever, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite and cough.

The most common form of tuberculosis in adults is reactivation tuberculosis. The primary infection resolves, but the bacteria remain dormant in the body and multiply later. The most prominent symptom is a persistent fever, along with night sweating, fatigue and unexplained weight loss.

There is no approved vaccine for tuberculosis in the United States, but the disease can be treated with a variety of medications.

Because of the recent rash of incidents, Norton Healthcare is working with local health departments and Norton Children’s Hospital to educate and care for patients with TB symptoms.

Call the doctor if you or your child has been in contact with a person who has tuberculosis or is having symptoms that may be from TB, such as a persistent fever or cough, or complaints about sweating at night. Don’t wait to be tested, even if you don’t feel sick.


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