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Causes Of Tuberculosis (TB)

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Causes Of Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis. If you live or work in close quarters with a person infected with TB, spend hours in unhygienic places, or are not getting proper nourishment, you run the risk of contracting this infectious disease. If you are elderly, very young, diabetic, or have HIV/AIDS or other illnesses, or are undergoing chemotherapy, you tend to be more vulnerable.

One-third of the global population is believed to have latent tuberculosis that could potentially turn more virulent at a later date. While it affects just 3 in 100,000 Americans, tuberculosis infection is one of the world’s most deadly diseases. It is the leading cause of death among those with systems already compromised by the HIV virus. Due to the risk of complications from the illness, it is best to identify the risk factors, causes and symptoms of tuberculosis so you can protect yourself from this potentially fatal disease.1 Here is a closer look at the causes and symptoms.

What Is Tuberculosis And What Causes It?

Tuberculosis, pulmonary tuberculosis, or simply TB is a contagious infection of the lungs that can also spread to other parts of the body, damaging your organs. The illness is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The infection is latent in individuals who contract the bacteria but this may become active at a later point. If your immune system is robust, it can handle the bacteria and prevent it from becoming a full-blown infection.

However, for those with weaker systems, the infection can become active in the lungs and cause TB. It may even spread to other organs like the abdominal glands, nervous system, reproductive system, and bones, via the bloodstream.2

Causes Of Transmission Of TB Infection

Now that you know which pathogen causes TB, here are some ways in which you may end up being infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The good news is that those with latent TB who don’t have any symptoms of infection cannot be silent carriers of the bacteria. However, you could contract Mycobacterium tuberculosis by exposure to someone with TB disease in these ways:

  • Living or working in close quarters with someone with the infection
  • Spending a lot of time with someone who is infected
  • Spending a lot of time in high-risk locations like long-term care facilities, homeless shelters, or prisons
  • Being a healthcare worker who deals with those considered high risk for TB disease
  • Living in countries where TB is rampant like Sub Saharan Africa, West Africa, Southeast Asia, China, South America, Russia, Vietnam, Philippines, or Cambodia.
  • Travel to locations where TB is rampant
  • Having poor nutrition
  • Living in a place that is unclean or very crowded3 4 5

In addition, your risk of contracting TB rises if there are drug-resistant strains of the disease that have begun spreading in your geography. A rise in HIV infections in the area and increase in homeless population can also heighten the risk of being infected by the pathogen.6

Causes Of Active Tuberculosis (TB)

As you now know, simply having Mycobacterium tuberculosis in your body does not mean you will actually develop the infection. In fact, of those infected with the bacteria, only 5 to 10 percent actually develop active TB disease.7

Here are some of the risk factors or causes of active primary TB8:

Being Older

The elderly have weaker immune systems, making them more susceptible to the infection becoming active.

Being Very Young

The very young, like infants, are also more vulnerable and at risk as their immune systems are still developing. Their bodies may not be strong enough yet to fight and contain the infection.

Having HIV Or AIDS

HIV infection or AIDS can leave a person’s immune system highly weakened, making them less capable of fighting off infections like TB.

Being Diabetic

Having diabetes also makes you more vulnerable to TB infection.

Undergoing Chemotherapy

If cancer has necessitated chemotherapy, it may expose you to infection by TB. You will need to watch carefully for symptoms or be tested for the presence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis to ensure you treat the problem at the earliest.

Symptoms Of TB

TB only begins to show noticeable symptoms after the infection becomes active (active TB). Your body doesn’t give you any hint of just being infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is only when you transition from the latent to the active form of the infection that some of these symptoms will begin to crop up.9

  • Weight loss that cannot be explained
  • Appetite loss
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Excessive tiredness or fatigue
  • Swelling in the neck10

Symptoms Of TB In Your Lungs

In addition, if you have pulmonary TB that affects the lungs, you may also experience:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Incessant coughing for a prolonged period. A cough that doesn’t go away even after 3 weeks warrants attention as it could be a sign of TB. There is usually some phlegm when you cough.
  • Coughing up blood, also known hemoptysis.11 12 13

Symptoms Of TB In Other Glands

If the infection spreads to the lymph nodes, digestive system, bladder, bones, joints, nerves, brain, or reproductive system, symptoms can vary depending on what part of the body is affected. However, some additional symptoms to watch for that could indicate TB infection in these parts are14:

  • Swelling of glands that doesn’t go away
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Loss of movement in a joint or bone
  • Pain in a joint or bone
  • A headache that doesn’t go away
  • Confusion
  • Seizures or fits

Get Tested And Treated

If you suspect you could be at risk of developing a TB infection, you should contact your healthcare provider. Tests may include a chest X-ray or scan, a blood test, sputum examination, or a tuberculin skin test or PPD test.15

As the World Health Organization explains, if you are infected it is important to get urgent treatment for your own sake as well as for the sake of the people around you. On an average, those ill with TB infections can affect as many as 10 to 15 people they come into close contact with in just one year. Left untreated, the infection can take the lives of two-thirds of those who have the active form of the disease.16

Antibiotics, corticosteroids, and vitamin supplements may be prescribed as part of the treatment which runs for about six months.17 Considering what’s at risk, it is well worth getting tested if you’re in a high-risk category or have seen any symptoms that might point to TB.

References   [ + ]

1. [Tuberculosis Data and Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
2, 10. Tuberculosis. National Health Service.
3, 6, 8, 12, 15. Pulmonary tuberculosis. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
4. Tuberculosis. National Health Service.
5. Tuberculosis (TB) Disease: Symptoms & Risk Factors. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
7. The Difference Between Latent TB Infection and TB Disease. Centers for DIsease Control and Prevention.
9. The Difference Between Latent TB Infection and TB Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
11. The Difference Between Latent TB Infection and TB Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
13, 14. Tuberculosis Symptoms. National Health Service.
16. What is TB? How is it treated? World Health Organization.
17. Treating tuberculosis. National Health Service.