What is tuberculosis?Tuberculosis (TB) is a chronic bacterial infection that usually infects the lungs, although other organs are sometimes involved. TB is primarily an airborne disease (spread by air droplets from infected people when they cough or sneeze).
There is a difference between being infected with the TB bacterium without illness and having active tuberculosis disease.
There are three important ways to describe the stages of TB. They are as follows:
- Exposure: This occurs when a person has been in contact, or exposed to, another person who is thought to have or does have TB. The exposed person will have a negative TB skin test, a normal chest x-ray, and no symptoms of the disease.
- TB infection: This is also called Latent Tuberculosis Infection or LTBI and occurs when a person has the TB bacteria in his/her body, but does not have symptoms of the disease. This person would have a positive skin test, but a normal chest x-ray and no illness.
- TB disease: This describes the person who has symptoms of an active infection. The person would have a positive skin test, a positive chest x-ray, and might be ill.
Who is at risk for developing TB?TB affects all ages, races, income levels, and both genders. Those at higher risk include the following:
- people who live or work with others who have TB
- medically underserved populations
- homeless people
- people from other countries where TB is prevalent
- people in group settings, such as nursing homes
- people who abuse alcohol
- people who use intravenous drugs
- people with impaired immune systems
- the elderly
- healthcare workers who come in contact with high-risk populations
What are the symptoms of TB?Different symptoms are TB are present depending upon the age of the child affected. The following are the most common symptoms for TB. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- in children:
- decrease in weight
- sweating at night
- enlarged lymph nodes
- in adolescents:
- cough that lasts greater than three weeks
- productive cough
- pain in the chest
- blood in their sputum
- weight loss
- decrease in appetite
- night sweats
What causes TB?The TB bacteria are spread through the air; however, repeated exposure to the germs is usually necessary before a child will become infected. It is not likely to be transmitted through personal items, such as clothing, bedding, or other items that a person with TB has touched. Adequate ventilation is the most important measure to prevent the transmission of TB.
How is TB infection diagnosed?TB is diagnosed with a TB skin test. In this test, a small amount of noninfectious testing material derived from the TB bacterium is injected into the top layer of the skin. If a certain size bump develops within two or three days, the test may be positive for tuberculosis infection. Additional tests to determine if a child has TB disease include x-rays and sputum tests.
TB skin tests are suggested for those:
- in high-risk categories.
- who live or work in close contact with people who are at high risk.
- who have never had a TB skin test.
- If a child is thought to have been exposed to a person with untreated TB disease.
- If the child has an x-ray that indicates possible TB.
- If the child has any symptoms of TB.
- A child who is coming from countries where TB is prevalent.
- Children with HIV.
- Children who are in jail.
All children should be assessed for risk of exposure to tuberculosis on each routine health care evaluation. Children who are felt to be at increased risk of exposure to a person who might have contagious tuberculosis should have a TB skin test placed.
Children with underlying chronic illness or problems with their immune systems should be assessed routinely for the possibility of exposure to tuberculosis. If there is a history of possible exposure, a TB skin test should be placed.
A TB skin test should be performed before any child is placed on drugs that will supress the immune system.
Treatment for tuberculosis:Specific treatment will be determined by your physician based on:
- your age, overall health, and medical history
- extent of the disease
- your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the disease
- your opinion or preference
- short-term hospitalization
- medications - isoniazid, rifampin, pyrazinamide, ethambutol, or streptomycin, may be prescribed for a period of time up to six months or more for the medication to be effective. Patients usually begin to improve within a few weeks of the start of treatment. The patient is not usually contagious once treatment begins, provided that treatment is carried through to the end, as prescribed by a physician.
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