Tuberculosis (TB)

Tuberculosis, or TB, is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis which mainly attack the lungs, and sometimes other parts of the body including the kidneys, spine and brain. Some people do not get ill following infection, because their immune systems are able to detect and kill the bacteria.

For many people their immune system is not strong enough to kill the bacteria, but can prevent it from growing any more – this becomes Latent TB which can be a lifelong disease.

Sometimes your immune system is not capable of defending you against the bacteria – in this case you will develop active TB which can have serious complications and can be fatal.

TB is spread by coughing and sneezing.

Latent TB often has no symptoms but will still need to be treated to kill the infection. The symptoms of active TB are a bad cough that lasts for several weeks, pains in the chest, coughing up blood, losing weight, weakness and tiredness, chills, fever, and night sweats.

TB can cause serious complications including the spread of the bacteria throughout the body (miliary TB), tubercular meningitis (inflammation of the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord), breathing difficulties, severe malabsorption (difficulties absorbing nutrients due to problems in the intestines), and heart problems.

TB can be treated, but many strains of the bacteria causing TB are resistant to common antibiotics, so it usually takes between 6 months and 2 years to kill the infection.

Death rates from TB are declining, though new strains of the bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics are becoming very difficult to treat. If not properly treated, TB can kill two thirds of patients. The BCG vaccine protects children from the bacteria that cause TB.