Santé Montréal

Tuberculosis

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Description

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which travels through the air when someone who has active infectious TB coughs, sneezes, sings, plays a wind instrument or even, in some cases, speaks. TB bacteria usually lodge in the lungs, but they can also make their way into people's lymph nodes, kidneys and bones. 
 
Generally speaking, the likelihood that people in good health will develop active TB is quite low. In fact, only 10% of infected individuals will actually develop tuberculosis in their lifetime. If you inhale TB germs, your immune (or body defence) system is usually able to destroy them. If not, TB bacilli can remain alive in your body without being active, in which case, you will have what is called a latent TB infection, and you will neither feel ill nor be able to transmit tuberculosis to anyone else.
 
On the other hand, if you have latent TB and your immune system is weakened by another disease (cancer, diabetes, alcoholism, HIV, etc.), your latent TB can become active, and you will feel sick and be able to infect others. If this happens, you must see a doctor as soon as possible. Both latent and active TB can be cured by antibiotics.

World Tuberculosis Day, which is celebrated on March 24th, commemorates the occasion in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch presented his discovery of the human tubercle bacillus (often referred to as Koch's bacillus) to a group of doctors in Berlin. This event marked the beginning of efforts to diagnose and treat TB.

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Symptoms

Symptoms of active tuberculosis

 TB can cause the following symptoms: 

  • a bad cough lasting more than three weeks, often with sputum and fever
  • extreme fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • night sweats
  • loss of weight

Mode of transmission 

When a person with infectious pulmonary tuberculosis coughs and sneezes, he/she sprays germs out into the air. You can catch TB by breathing the germs in. 

TB is not as contagious as some other diseases like the flu or whooping cough. To contract it, you usually have to be exposed for quite a few hours a day to someone who has infectious TB. Your chances of catching the disease increase if you are living with a person who has TB in crowded, poorly ventilated conditions.

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When to Consult

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Complications

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Protection and prevention

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Risk factors

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Help and Resources

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Treatment

The treatment is long, generally lasting from six to nine months. Patients usually have to take two to four anti-TB drugs a day. By taking their prescribed medications, they will cure their tuberculosis and cease being infectious, thereby avoiding serious complications for themselves and protecting the people around them. 
 
If you have tuberculosis, it is very important that you take your antibiotics regularly and right to the end of your treatment.

Because the human tubercle bacillus grows very slowly and the antibiotics kill the bacteria while they are growing, tuberculosis treatment takes at least six months. 
 
You will probably have to wait a few weeks after starting your TB treatment before you begin to feel better. However, it is very important that you continue take your medications, because the TB bacilli are still alive in your body. 
 
If you stop taking your medications or take them irregularly, your TB can become drug-resistant. You will get sick again and will have to take drugs for an even longer time to cure the disease. There will also be more undesirable side effects. You could end up developing infectious TB again and spreading it to your family, friends and co-workers.
 
Directly Observed Therapy can help

The only way to cure tuberculosis is to take your antibiotics exactly as prescribed by your doctor. It won't be easy! Try to take them every day at the same time, for example, before breakfast.  Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist may suggest a Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) to help you take your medications regularly. If you agree, you will meet with a health professional every day or several times a week. This type of treatment can be helpful in several ways. The health professional will remind you to take your medications and to continue to your treatment to the very end.  If you complete the full course of treatment, you will be cured. The health professional will also make sure that the antibiotics are working as they should, monitor any side effects and answer your questions about TB. It is also better not to drink alcohol while you are taking anti-TB drugs.

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People at Risk

Anyone can catch TB, whether they are young or old, male or female. However, people who are in close and prolonged contact with someone who has TB run a higher risk of catching it themselves. The most vulnerable people are children, the elderly and those whose physical resistance has been diminished due to other diseases or life style choices.

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Dernière mise à jour le : 2016.01.25