Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body, such as the kidney, spine, and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal. TB disease was once the leading cause of death in the United States.
Latent TB Infection
Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. People who are not sick have what is called latent TB infection. People who have latent TB infection do not feel sick, do not have any symptoms, and cannot spread TB to others. But, some people with latent TB infection go on to get TB disease.
Active TB Disease
People with active TB disease can be treated and cured if they seek medical help. Even better, people with latent TB infection can take medicine so that they will not develop active TB disease.
MultiDrug Resistant TB
If TB-infected people do not take their medicine as their doctor or nurse directs, the TB bacteria may become resistant to certain medicine. This means that the medicine can no longer kill the bacteria.
Drug resistance is more common in people who:
Have spent time with someone with drug-resistant active TB disease
Do not take their medicine regularly
Do not take all of their medicine as told by their doctor or nurse
Develop active TB disease again, after having taken TB medicine in the past
Come from areas where drug-resistant TB is common
Sometimes the bacteria become resistant to two or more of the most important TB medicines. This is called multidrug-resistant TB, or MDR TB. This is a very serious problem. People with MDR TB disease must be treated with special medicines. These medicines are not as good as the usual medicines for TB and they may cause more side effects. Also, most people with MDR TB disease must see a TB expert who can closely observe their treatment to make sure it is working.
TB is a communicable disease which medical providers are required by law to report to the Public Health Department. If you are a medical provider and need to report TB, please download the Communicable Disease Reporting Form, complete it, and fax to (602) 372-2610.
If you are not a medical provider, but think you have TB, please see your physician.
The general symptoms of TB disease include: feelings of sickness or weakness, weight loss, fever, and night sweats.
The symptoms of TB disease of the lungs also include: coughing, chest pain, and the coughing up of blood. Symptoms of TB disease in other parts of the body depend on the area affected.
How It Spreads
TB germs are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. These germs can stay in the air for several hours, depending on the environment. Persons who breathe in the air containing these TB germs can become infected; this is called latent TB infection.
Since TB is spread through the air, people cannot get infected with TB bacteria through handshakes, sitting on toilet seats, or sharing dishes and utensils with someone who has TB.
Untreated active TB disease can spread to other parts of the body, where it can lead to serious or life-threatening complications. TB that infects the bone, for example, can cause severe pain, abscesses, and joint destruction.
The most serious complication, however, is the recurrence of TB after the initial infection and the development of drug-resistant strains of the disease.
TB disease can be cured by taking several drugs for 6 to 12 months. It is very important that people who have TB disease finish the medicine, and take the drugs exactly as prescribed. If they stop taking the drugs too soon, they can become sick again. If they do not take the drugs correctly, the germs that are still alive may become resistant to those drugs. TB that is resistant to drugs is harder and more expensive to treat.
In some situations, staff of the local health department meets regularly with patients who have TB to watch them take their medications. This is called directly observed therapy (DOT). DOT helps the patient complete treatment in the least amount of time.
For people who are infected with TB, the most important way to keep from spreading TB is to take all their medicine, exactly as directed by their doctor or nurse.
If an infected person is sick enough with active TB disease to go to a hospital, they may be put in a special room. These rooms use air vents that keep TB bacteria from spreading to other rooms. People who work in these special rooms must wear a special face mask to protect themselves from TB bacteria. The infected person must stay in the room so that they will not spread TB bacteria to other people.
At home, there are certain things an infected person can do you can do to protect themselves and others near them:
The most important thing is to take your medicine.
Always cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough, sneeze, or laugh. Put the tissue in a closed bag and throw it away.
Do not go to work or school. Separate yourself from others and avoid close contact with anyone. Sleep in a bedroom away from other family members.
Air out your room often to the outside of the building (if weather permits). TB spreads in small closed spaces where air doesn't move. Put a fan in your window to blow out (exhaust) air that may be filled with TB bacteria. If you open other windows in the room, the fan also will pull in fresh air. This will reduce the chances that TB bacteria will stay in the room and infect someone who breathes the air.