Tuberculosis (TB) FAQs

Tuberculosis (TB) FAQs

These are the most frequently asked questions about tuberculosis.

Question: What is tuberculosis?

Answer: Tuberculosis (TB) is a chronic infectious disease that affects the lungs but may attack other parts of the body. According to the World Health Organisation, tuberculosis is curable – yet it kills 5000 people every day. Two billion people (one third of the world’s population) are infected with TB bacilli (the microbes that cause tuberculoses) and one in ten people infected will become sick with active tuberculosis.

Question: What causes tuberculosis?

Answer: Tuberculosis is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a bacterium first isolated in 1882 by Robert Koch, a German physician who received the Nobel Prize for this discovery.

Question: How is tuberculoses transmitted?

Answer: Infection mostly happens when you inhale minute particles of infected sputum deposited in the air by the coughing, shouting, spitting or sneezing of a person who has tuberculosis lung infection. An infected person may carry the bacteria for years without showing any symptoms or spreading it to others but when his or her immune system weakens, TB infection develops into an active disease. If not treated each person with active TB can infect about 10 to 15 people per year.

Question: What is Mycobacterium bovis?

Answer: A related bacterium, called Mycobacterium bovis, causes a form of atypical tuberculosis that is transmitted by drinking unpasteurised milk that has this bacterium.

Question: What are the symptoms of tuberculoses?

Answer: Symptoms depend on where in the body the TB bacteria are multiplying but usually they affect the lungs. Symptoms that are lung related include a bad cough that lasts longer than two weeks, chest pain and coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lungs). Other symptoms are tiredness, weakness, weight loss, chills, night sweats and fever.

Question: How is tuberculoses tested?

Answer: A skin test is used to diagnose tuberculosis infection and tuberculosis disease is diagnosed using a chest x-ray or a test of a sputum sample.

Question: What is the relation between tuberculoses and HIV/AIDS?

Answer: TB is a major cause of death in people living with HIV due to their weakened immune system. HIV/Aids, TB and malaria kill between 5 to 6 million people per year with nearly two million deaths caused by tuberculosis.

Question: Is tuberculoses more prevalent in some areas?

Answer: Poverty is a major influence on the statistics related to tuberculosis and virtually all TB deaths occur in the developing world, affecting mostly young adults in their most productive years. The highest rates per capita are in Africa (about 29%) and half of all new cases are in six Asian countries namely Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines.

Question: Is tuberculoses curable?

Answer: Tuberculoses can be cured with rigorous unbroken treatment that lasts for six months. Failure to complete the treatment regimen can result in the emergence of drug-resistant strains of TB, a very serious complication. Inactive tuberculosis are treated with an antibiotic to prevent the TB infection from becoming active; active TB is treated with INH in combination with one or more drugs.

Question: What is the future outlook for tuberculoses?

Answer: The probability of eliminating TB by effective treatment, vaccinations and public-health measures was high by the year 2000. The emergence of HIV changed the situation drastically and a tremendous increase in the frequency of TB occurred in the 1980s and throughout the 1990s. The epidemic of TB and HIV has been a deadly combination especially on the African continent and, despite effective treatment availability, the distribution of medicine to developing countries remain problematic.