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TB Questions and Answers - Section 1

About the disease

 

Q: What exactly is tuberculosis?

A: Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is characterized by the formation of tubercles (node like lesions), which are elevated, round structures and cause generalized tissue damage, particularly in the lungs. The disease commonly affects the respiratory system but may also involve other organs.

Q: Does everyone who becomes infected with TB become sick?

A: No. Only an average of 1 in 10 infected persons develops the disease at some time in their life.

Q: Are some infected people more likely to progress to clinically active disease than others?

A: Yes. Persons who are infected with tubercle bacillus and are immunosuppressed (e.g., those with coexisting HIV infection) are at a considerably greater risk of developing clinically active disease.

Q: After being infected with TB bacteria, when is the greatest risk of it progressing to a clinically active disease?

A: Within the first year of contracting the infection (although disease may still occur many years later since it remains in the body in a dormant state).

Q: What happens when someone tests positive for clinically active TB disease?

A: Patients who are suspected or confirmed to have active TB are placed in isolation until they have negative AFB test results. These patients are treated with antibiotics for 6 - 12 months.

Q: What is drug resistant TB?

A: Various strains of TB are resistant to the effects of the medications normally used to combat the progression of TB. Recently, multi drug resistant (MDR) strains have also surfaced.

Q: How do drug resistant strains of TB occur?

A: Some occur naturally while others occur when patients stop their treatment program before the medication has its full effect on the bacteria.

Q: Who is most likely to contract TB?

A: Persons with HIV infection, those with close contacts of infectious TB cases, persons with medical conditions which increase the risk of TB, foreign born individuals from high prevalence countries, low income populations (including high risk minorities), the homeless, alcoholics and intravenous drug users, and residents of long term care facilities (including prisons).

Q: What are the symptoms of TB?

A: Prolonged cough, fever, chills, night sweats, easy fatigability, loss of appetite, weight loss, and hemoptysis (coughing up blood).

Q: What tests can be done to screen for TB?

A: Tuberculin skin test, chest radiograph and sputum smears tested for AFB are all recognized procedures for diagnosing TB.

Q: Are these tests always accurate?

A: No, among persons with HIV infection, the difficulty in making a diagnosis may be further compounded by impaired responses to tuberculin tests, low sensitivity of sputum smears for detecting AFB, or overgrowth of cultures with Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) among patients with both MAC and Mycobacterium tuberculosis infections.

Q: What is the size of the TB bacteria?

A: The average TB particle is a rod shaped particle that is 0.3 - 0.6 microns wide by a length of 1 - 4 microns.

Q: What is a droplet nuclei?

A: Dropl nuclei is the term used to describe the liquid particle in which the TB bacteria is usually carried. The droplet nuclei ranges in size from 1 - 5 microns and is expelled from the body by coughing, sneezing, speaking, etc.

Q: When discussing micron size, how small are we talking about?

A: The dot above this "i" is approximately 400 microns in size. Particles under 50 microns are generally not visible to the naked eye (unless they are in high concentration and passing through sunlight). Particles under 10 microns in size are only visible when using a microscope.

-End of Section 1-

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