Tuberculosis (cont.)

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How common is TB, and who gets it?

Data from 2011 show that approximately 8.7 million new cases of TB occur each year worldwide, with 1.4 million estimated deaths. More disconcerting is the rise in multidrug-resistant organisms (MDR) accounting for 630,000 cases worldwide. Additionally, further mutation of the bacteria has resulted in even more difficult to treat infections referred to as extensively drug resistant (XDR) TB. XDR TB is now found in 84 different countries.

In the United States, it is estimated that 10-15 million people are infected with the TB bacteria, and 22,000 new cases of TB occur each year. The incidence of MDR TB and XDR TB in the U.S. is much lower than that seen worldwide, but the ease with which we travel necessitates vigilance to keep these numbers low.

Anyone can get TB, but certain people are at higher risk, including

  • people who live with individuals who have an active TB infection,
  • poor or homeless people,
  • foreign-born people from countries that have a high prevalence of TB,
  • nursing-home residents and prison inmates,
  • alcoholics and intravenous drug users,
  • people with diabetes, certain cancers, and HIV infection (the AIDS virus),
  • health-care workers.

There is no strong evidence for a genetically determined (inherited) susceptibility for TB.

What are the symptoms and signs of tuberculosis?

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As previously mentioned, TB infection usually occurs initially in the upper part (lobe) of the lungs. The body's immune system, however, can stop the bacteria from continuing to reproduce. Thus, the immune system can make the lung infection inactive (dormant). On the other hand, if the body's immune system cannot contain the TB bacteria, the bacteria will reproduce (become active or reactivate) in the lungs and spread elsewhere in the body.

It may take many months from the time the infection initially gets into the lungs until symptoms develop. The usual symptoms that occur with an active TB infection are a generalized tiredness or weakness, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. If the infection in the lung worsens, then further symptoms can include coughing, chest pain, coughing up of sputum (material from the lungs) and/or blood (hemoptysis), and shortness of breath. If the infection spreads beyond the lungs, the symptoms will depend upon the organs involved.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/15/2014

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Tuberculosis - Diagnosis Question: How was the diagnosis of your tuberculosis established?
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