Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria can enter the body, ordinarily the lungs, and damage the tissues they reach.
People with Tuberculosis are the only ones that can infect others. When they cough, sneeze, talk, or spit, the TB bacteria are expelled into the air. A person only needs to inhale a small number of these bacteria to be infected. In TB infection, the bacilli do not cause tissue damage. Infected people do not become sick with the disease. Only one out of ten infected people with normal immune systems will develop the symptoms of TB. If their immune systems are weakened by an HIV infection, cancer, malnutrition, immunity-suppressing drugs, or other conditions, the TB-infected person can develop an active TB disease.
Tuberculosis is not caused by any of the following:
- Perspiration drying on one’s back, by over-exertion, or fatigue.
- Smoking or pollution, however, these can damage the lungs, making you more susceptible to infection.
- Poor nutrition, although poor nutrition could make a person who inhales the TB bacilli more likely to develop the TB disease.
- Sharing drinking glasses, bedclothes, or eating utensils. Note that the TB bacilli can survive outside the body for two to three hours, so if a TB infected person coughs on a fork; it is possible for a person using the same fork to be infected.
The following symptoms of a tuberculosis infection may come suddenly:
- Abdominal pain near the appendix
- Shortness of breath
- Spontaneous Pneumothorax
- Sleep walking
- Persistent cough
- Coughing up blood
- Night or afternoon sweats
- Constant tiredness
- Loss of weight and loss of appetite
If you develop any of the abovementioned symptoms of tuberculosis, consult your doctor immediately. Early treatment prevents the TB from worsening.
The following steps may be taken to reduce the risk of being infected by tuberculosis:
- Frequent washing of hands, especially after being around many people with chronic coughs. Remember that the hands may contain the infectious substance that induces TB.
- Don’t shake the hand of someone who has been coughing.
- Try wearing a face mask. A modified and special, high-micro filtration mask will keep the TB bacilli from attacking your respiratory system.
- During winter months, try to avoid staying in the house for long periods with only recycled air.
- Consider having a BCG vaccination.
- A TB skin test is advised. These tests are available for only a minimal cost at most community clinics, and at health fairs that are offered at shopping malls and senior centers.
- If you are sensitive to the TB skin test, have a chest X-ray done to detect clinical signs of TB in your lungs.
- Avoid being too close to a coughing person. You can never know for sure if you are being exposed to TB, but you reduce the risk of being infected if you stay away from the bacilli being spewed about when people cough and sneeze.
- Breathing clean air is always a good idea.
- Always remember to eat a healthy diet rich in minerals, calcium, protein, and fiber and vitamins.