Tuberculosis tests and treatments

TB is a disease caused by bacteria. The bacteria can attack any part of the body, but usually attacks the lungs. TB is spread only by inhaling the bacteria from the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, laughs and sings. Infection from inhaling these TB germs generally occurs with prolonged or frequent exposure.

The following scenarios may be helpful for your understanding:

01  Exposure → Active TB Disease

A small number of people who are exposed to TB germs cannot fight them and they do multiply and cause active TB disease.

02  Exposure → Latent TB Infection

Most people who are exposed to TB germs keep them from multiplying because of their immune system’s protection. These germs stay “dormant, sleeping or latent,” protected by immune cells.

03  Latent TB Infection → Active TB Disease

Some people with “latent, sleeping” germs may later develop Active TB Disease when their immune system is lowered for some reason and the germs escape from the protecting immune cells and multiply.

Treatments and drugs

Medications are the cornerstone of tuberculosis treatment. But treating TB takes much longer than treating other types of bacterial infections.

With tuberculosis, you must take antibiotics for at least six to nine months. The exact drugs and length of treatment depend on your age, overall health, possible drug resistance, the form of TB (latent or active) and the infection’s location in the body.

Most common TB drugs

If you have latent tuberculosis, you may need to take just one type of TB drug. Active tuberculosis, particularly if it’s a drug-resistant strain, will require several drugs at once. The most common medications used to treat tuberculosis include:

  • Isoniazid
  • Rifampin (Rifadin, Rimactane)
  • Ethambutol (Myambutol)
  • Pyrazinamide

Completing treatment is essential

After a few weeks, you won’t be contagious and you may start to feel better. It might be tempting to stop taking your TB drugs. But it is crucial that you finish the full course of therapy and take the medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Stopping treatment too soon or skipping doses can allow the bacteria that are still alive to become resistant to those drugs, leading to TB that is much more dangerous and difficult to treat.

To help people stick with their treatment, a program called directly observed therapy (DOT) is recommended. In this approach, a health care worker administers your medication so that you don’t have to remember to take it on your own.

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