Tuberculosis (TBC for short) is a disease that develops slowly and can lead to chronic morbidity and even death, if not treated. The cause of this disease are bacterias which are transferred by air from one person to the other. However, since the cattle and prone to a form of the disease, it can be transferred with cow’s milk and enter the body through the tonsils or intestines.
The bacteria usually attack the lungs, or can be extended to other parts of the body, particularly the brain, kidneys or bones. By multiplying, the bacteria produce inflammation focus, from where they spread to the nearest lymph nodes.
The first (or primary) stage of infection usually lasts for several months. During this period, the body resists with its natural defense and destroys all or most of the bacteria, or envelop them with fibrous capsule that forms around hot spots. However, before the suppression of the initial attack, a few bacteria can “escape” into the bloodstream and move to another part of the body where body’s natural defense ”closes” them.
In many cases, the disease never develops beyond the primary stage, and the patient acquires good immunity to the new attack. But sometimes, a natural defense can not overcome an invasion of microbes and disease progression cannot be stopped. Sometimes the body can win first battle, but the disease flares up again. It happens (often after many years) because the bacteria that does not die in the process of ”closing” comes to life when the patient’s body is weak, ill or undernourished.
The second stage of tuberculosis usually affects the lungs. With the growth of the bacterial population, the ability to breathe is reduced due to the damage to the lungs. Bacteria can be reactivated in other parts of the body, too. Secondary outbreak of TBC can usually be suppressed if treated properly, although leaves harmful scar tissue in all places where there has been damage to healthy tissue.
In primary infection there are usually no symptoms or, if there are, simptoms are similar to flu. You may never find out that you have had tuberculosis. If a secondary stage of the disease develops, you will probably have a slight fever, you will lose some weight, feel exhaustion for no apparent reason, and various other symptoms will develop, depending on which part of the body is affected. In pulmonary tuberculosis (the most common kind of tuberculosis) dry cough can occur, followed after a while with a bloody and purulent sputum. There can a shortness of breath and chest pain, too. If other organ gets affected, the symptoms of the infection of that organ will progressively become more heightened.
Very rarely, and generally among those people whose natural resistance is abnormally low, the primary tuberculosis is expanding so quickly that leads to death if treatment does not starts immediately. Today, it happens almost exclusively among young or very old people. Untreated secondary tuberculosis can also be deadly, but in this case the health status deteriorates a lot slower. Despite successful treatment, severe scar damage can remain on affected organs.
What to do?
The newborn is vaccinated with so-called BCG vaccine while still in the hospital, and then, at the age of 2 and 4, sends for a tuberculin reaction tests (patch test). Medical service for school children organizes regularly testing for tuberculin reaction, namely the so-called Mantoux probe in ages 7-8 and 13-14, and around 18 years of age, depending on the needs of the population. Calendar of vaccination changes every two to three years.
But, no matter what you were vaccinated against, always consult a doctor if you start to lose weight, if you feel weak or get a fever accompanied by a persistent cough. Your doctor will test tuberculin reaction with Mantoux probe, and direct you to the analysis of sputum and X-ray of the chest.
Self-help: if a doctor determines that you are suffering from tuberculosis, you have to take medication regularly and eat high-fat foods, as recommend by a doctor. You must be prepared that you will be on sick leave and that you will have to rest for several months. Rest is essential for a full recovery from the disease.
Professional help: you may have to go to the hospital. Today, TBC can be cured by special antibiotics (antituberculosis). It includes using a combination of two or three antibiotics that must be taken continuously – usually in the course of 9-18 months.
After successful treatment of tuberculosis, you must come for periodic monitoring for at least two years so that the disease would not be re-ignited. After that, consider yourself cured.