Tuberculosis – Making a Deadly Comeback

Tuberculosis – Making a Deadly Comeback

Tuberculosis – Making a Deadly Comeback


Tuberculosis (TB) is a highly infectious disease that affects the lungs and other organs.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), TB is one of the top 10 leading causes of death worldwide, killing around 1.7 million people in 2016. TB has made a deadly comeback.

Most cases of TB occur in developing countries; however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 9,000 cases in the United States in 2016.

In this article, we will briefly cover the causes, signs and symptoms, and treatment of tuberculosis.

Causes of tuberculosis

Tuberculosis results from a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which has a variety of strains that respond differently to medications.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis travels through respiratory droplets, where another healthy individual can contract the infection.

The transmission of TB mainly occurs through:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Speaking
  • Singing

Immune-competent individuals may not experience symptoms of TB, as the bacteria remain latent inside the lungs.

In fact, WHO estimates that one-quarter of the world’s population has latent tuberculosis.

If you have latent TB, and your immune system gets weakened, the infection reactivates again, causing the classic symptoms of tuberculosis.

Signs and symptoms of tuberculosis

Active TB infection presents with symptoms that affect the respiratory system, including coughing, hemoptysis (i.e., blood with coughing), and shortness of breath.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Appetite loss
  • Weight loss
  • Unexplained fatigue

Other organs such as the kidneys, brain, spine, bones, ears, and bone marrow can also be infected with TB.

Treatment of tuberculosis

Similar to other bacterial infections, tuberculosis gets treated with antibiotics; however, with this infection, we use several antibiotics together due to fear of resistance.

The duration of treatment is also long, lasting between 6 to 12 months. When TB affects the bone marrow, the treatment could last up to 18 months to clear the infection.

The drugs that treat tuberculosis are:

  • Isoniazid
  • Ethambutol
  • Pyrazinamide
  • Rifampin
  • Rifapentine

These drugs usually affect the liver, which may lead to liver injury, especially if the treatment lasted for too long.

Symptoms of liver injury include anorexia (i.e., appetite loss), dark urine, nausea and vomiting, fever, jaundice, and abdominal cramping.

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should speak with your doctor as soon as possible. He/she will order liver function tests (LFTs) to confirm or rule out the diagnosis.

In the developing world, vaccination against TB is standardized, as all newborns receive it. While this vaccine does not prevent TB infections altogether, it does reduce the risk of developing severe forms. In developed countries, and due to the low number of cases, TB vaccine is not as common.

Takeaway message

Tuberculosis is an extremely common infection that takes the lives of millions of people every year. The transmission of the bacteria made the infection even more dangerous due to how easy for someone healthy to catch it.

We hope that this article highlighted TB and the role of treatment in preventing severe forms.