Pulmonary Tuberculosis, or TB as it is often known, is an infectious bacterial disease that afflicts millions of people worldwide and is a constant threat to life, which is why it is important to be educated to the symptoms of TB to identify a case as soon as possible. Tuberculosis primarily infects the lungs but is capable of spreading to different parts of the body as well. As a respiratory disease it can cause a lot of pain and irritation to people afflicted with it, furthermore TB as a respiratory illness makes the transmission of the disease from one person to the next quick and simple. TB is easily transmitted by people with the sickness coughing, spitting, sneezing or otherwise ejecting infected sputum and saliva which then can infect others by aerial means. The fact that this disease is airborne is why millions of people worldwide are infected and roughly 50% of them will die due to the disease, another problem is the presence of tuberculosis that is resistant to antibiotics which is why everyone should know the signs of tuberculosis.
Human History and Tuberculosis: The White Plague
Tuberculosis seems to have been around just as long as the human race has been civilized. Examples of people being afflicted with the disease are in written records dating back to the time of Hippocrates in 460 BC. According to Hippocrates people with symptoms of TB were usually ranging in age from eighteen to thirty five, and almost all of them would eventually die from the disease. Even earlier finds of tuberculosis can be found in ancient times even before civilization started. It was identified in human remains from nine thousand years ago in a period known as the Neolithic era in the Mediterranean. Even the royal demigods of ancient Egypt showed symptoms of TB in their mummies, it is believed that Pharaoh Akhenaten (the father of Tutenkhamen) and his wife both died due to the disease. Its widespread distribution and presence in almost all populations, even in prehistoric times has led some medical writers to refer to it as the first disease known to mankind. Indeed medical practitioners of today and the shaman medicine men of the past were all keen on identifying the symptoms of TB and would know the danger their patient is in.
What is TB?: A Microbiological Profile of Tuberculosis
Although the symptoms of TB are the same across the board, the bacteria that cause the disease can slightly differ. Infections of Tuberculosis are due to the presence of Myco Bacteria, these bacteria are what cause Tuberculosis which is a species of bacteria that has an unusual waxy lipid bi-layer which allows the bacteria to survive well even in hostile environments outside of a host. Although M. Tuberculosis is quite slow at cell division, dividing only once every 15 to 20 hours, the adaptation of having a waxy coating it is able to survive and move from host to host. It is a highly aerobic bacteria and requires a lot of oxygen to survive, which is why it inhabits the lungs of mammals due to the high amounts of oxygen that they are exposed to. Aside from Mycobacterium Tuberculosis there are also other species in the genus including M. Bovis, M. Africanum, M. Caprae, M. Microti, M. Pinnipedii, and M. Canetti. These different varieties also cause Tuberculosis by infecting the lungs of mammals including humans. Although there are forms of tuberculosis that infect other animals, they do not commonly cross species.
How Do They Test for Tuberculosis?
There are a handful of different ways that Tuberculosis can be tested for, this is usually done by a doctor or other healthcare practitioner after observing the symptoms of TB in a patient. Although there are multiple kinds of tuberculosis tests that healthcare providers can use, a tuberculosis test on its own is not used. To accurately diagnose TB a complete medical history, physical examination, chest x-ray, sputum sample (which is then analyzed for the presence of Myco Bacteria) and a secondary test for the reaction of antibodies to are necessary to accurately diagnose for TB. There are different methods of testing for tuberculosis; the analysis of the sputum is done with an acid fast-bacilli test, which involves fluorescence microscopy or auramine-rhodamine staining. To test for the immunological response to TB one of two major tuberculin skin tests are done, one is known as the Mantoux skin test and the second is called the Heaf test; depending on where a patient is tested one of these two tests will be used. The accurate diagnosis of tuberculosis is necessary because treating a tuberculosis patient requires many months of multiple antibiotic regimes. This can be extremely expensive and if there is a false positive it may add to the problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
What are the Symptoms of TB?
The symptoms of TB on their own are quite vague, which is why it is necessary for a doctor to do a full test before diagnosing anyone with tuberculosis. TB symptoms can be confused with a host of other diseases which is why it is important to consult a doctor to get proper diagnosis if one notices the symptoms of a TB infection. Below is a TB symptoms checklist that will allow one to get TB symptoms and treatment done correctly.
- Night Sweats (of the drenching variety)
- Low grade remittent fevers
- Loss of appetite
- To fatigue much quicker than usual
- Mucoid to purtulent sputum (clear to green or greenish yellow)
- Blood in the sputum (speckeled)
- Significant weight loss (often known as consumption)
- A cough lasting more than three weeks
Although the above list are signs and symptoms of tuberculosis they can easily be symptoms for other conditions as well. This is why consultation with a licensed physician is always highly advised if any of the above symptoms are observed.
How is Tuberculosis Treated?
After one has exhibited the symptoms of TB and have been properly diagnosed with the disease by a healthcare practitioner they will provide a suitable treatment with the proper prescription medications. Treatment of Tuberculosis is usually done with four different antibiotics, Isoniazid, Rifampicin, Ethambutol and Pyrazinamide, these four are used for around two months. After two months on the four antibiotics only isoniazid and rifampicin are used for another four months. After six months of proper treatment the patient is considered cured (although there is a 2 to 3% chance of relapse). It is important to note that the above treatment is used if a patient showing the symptoms of TB is infected with a strain of M. Tuberculosis that is not resilient to antibiotics. There are certain strains of TB which do not respond to normal treatment with the four antibiotics listed above. People with drug resistant tuberculosis exhibit the same symptoms of TB that would be normally found in someone who has tuberculosis, but these unfortunate people will need to find alternative medication.
Who is at Risk to Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is only really a risk to people who live in the undeveloped world and those who travel there. The incidence of tuberculosis is quite rare in developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. In the developed countries, most people are immunized to the disease as children, although some of these vaccinations are not effective against all strains of TB the low incidence of the disease in these countries is low enough that its spread is very unlikely. For those traveling in the underdeveloped world it is highly suggested that they are current with their TB immunization, contact with people exhibiting the symptoms of TB can transfer the sickness to those who are not immunized. Also family members and other people who are or were in close contact to people diagnosed with tuberculosis and exhibit the symptoms of TB need to be screened for the disease due to exposure to the disease. Other people at risk are those who have compromised immune systems such as those afflicted with HIV and AIDS. To people with compromised immune systems the symptoms of TB are a harbinger of doom because their immune systems cannot properly defend their bodies from the bacterial onslaught.
Closing words on Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis is a highly contagious and dangerous disease, it has plagued mankind from the beginning and continues to be a constant threat. Those that exhibit the symptoms of TB and are later fully diagnosed with the illness fare around a 50% survival rate. Even with modern technology and medicine the chances are still quite loose. This is aggravated by the fact that our own technology has backfired and in some cases produced drug resistant variants of the disease. This is due in part to the over prescription of certain antibiotics and a patients’ failure to completely finish the prescribed medicine indicated by their doctor. Always finish the prescription of medicine prescribed by a doctor to completely and properly eradicate the disease from your body. If you or anyone you know starts exhibiting the symptoms of TB it is extremely important to go to a doctor and get a proper diagnosis as soon as possible.