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TB not as rare as you think
Health advice
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Do you worry about being exposed to and getting infectious diseases like bacteremic pneumonia, meningitis, necrotizing fasciitis or tuberculosis? Most of us feel safe from those types of illnesses but several families in Liberty County could share stories about how easily they became infected with tuberculosis and spread it to family and friends.
Tuberculosis, the infectious disease caused by the mycobacterium tuberculosis, has been documented in Egyptian mummies as early as 2400 BC. In 460 BC, Hippocrates identified “phthisis” as the most widespread disease of the era and noted it was almost always fatal. Other physicians have provided anatomical descriptions of the disease’s progression over the next centuries and, in 1882, Robert Koch discovered a staining technique that enabled him to see mycobacterium tuberculosis, thus beginning the fight against one of humanity’s major enemies.
 In 1854, Hermann Brehmer, a Silesian botany student presented his doctoral dissertation, “Tuberculosis is a Curable Disease,” written from his personal experience with TB. Hermann’s knowledge included a trip to the Himalayan mountains when his doctor instructed him to seek a healthier climate. While there, he pursued his botanical studies and tried to arm himself against tuberculosis. He returned home cured and began to study medicine. In 1854, he presented his dissertation and built an institution surrounded by trees in Gorbersdorf where, with good nutrition, patients were exposed to continuous fresh air and a chance to rid themselves of the disease. This setup became the blueprint for the subsequent development of the sanatorium cure, a powerful weapon in the war against tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis is a potentially serious infectious disease that primarily affects the lungs. It is spread from person to person through tiny droplets released into the air. Most people who become infected with the bacteria that cause tuberculosis don’t develop symptoms of the disease. Although your body may harbor the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, your immune system can often prevent you from becoming sick. TB can also remain in an inactive state for years without causing symptoms or spreading to other people.
 For this reason, doctors make a distinction between the following:
• Latent TB. In this condition, you have a TB infection, but the bacteria remain in your body in an inactive state and cause no symptoms. Latent TB, also called inactive TB or TB infection, isn’t contagious.
• Active TB. This condition makes you sick and can spread to others.
Signs and symptoms of active TB include:
• unexplained weight loss
• fatigue
• fever
• night sweats
• chills
• loss of appetite
• coughing that lasts three or more weeks
• coughing up blood
• chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing
Tuberculosis can also affect other parts of the body, including the kidneys, spine or brain. When TB occurs outside the lungs, symptoms vary according to the organs involved. For example, tuberculosis of the spine may give you back pain, and tuberculosis in your kidneys might cause blood in your urine.
Despite advances in treatment, TB remains a major cause of illness and death worldwide, especially in Africa and Asia with a new infection occurring every second. In 2008, the World Health Organization estimated that one-third of the global population was infected with TB bacteria. Since the 1980s, rates of TB have increased, fueled by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the emergence of drug-resistant strains of the TB bacteria, which occur as a result of tubercle bacillus mutations.
These mutations are not dependent upon the presence of the drug. Exposed to a single effective anti-TB medication, the predominant bacilli, sensitive to that drug, are killed. The few drug-resistant mutants, likely to be present if the bacterial population is large, will multiply freely. Since it is very unlikely that a single bacillus will spontaneously mutate to resist more than one drug, giving multiple effective drugs simultaneously will inhibit the multiplication of these resistant mutants. This is why it is absolutely essential to treat TB patients with a recommended, four-drug regimen.
Most cases of tuberculosis can be cured by taking a combination of medications for several months or longer. It is extremely important to complete the whole course of therapy as prescribed, otherwise, you may find yourself dealing with a drug-resistant strain of the disease.
In the United States, it is estimated that 10-15 million people are infected with TB bacteria and 22,000 new cases of TB occur each year. Anyone can get TB, but certain people are at higher risk, including people who live with individuals who have an active TB infection, poor or homeless people, foreign-born people from countries that have a high prevalence of TB, nursing home residents and prison inmates, alcoholics and intravenous drug users, people with diabetes, certain cancers and HIV infection (the AIDS virus) and health-care workers.
It may take many months from the time the infection initially gets into the lungs until symptoms develop. See your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of TB.
If you have reason to believe you have been exposed to the disease, go to your doctor. Your health care provider can perform tests to help determine the cause of any symptoms you might have. TB can be diagnosed by your primary care doctor, a doctor who specializes in lung diseases or by an infectious disease specialist.
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