Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. It is a serious condition, but can be cured with proper treatment. TB mainly affects the lungs. However, it can affect any part of the body, including the glands, bones and nervous system.
The symptoms that occur when TB disease develops, often there are complaints of tiredness, listlessness, loss of weight and night sweating. When TB affects the lungs, a cough is usually present for weeks or even months. An important feature of TB is that after infection, the bacteria can remain latent in the body for a long time (even lifelong) causing no symptoms of disease. This means you are not infectious but it could leave the body more prone to diseases.
Who is affected?
Before antibiotics were introduced, TB was a major health problem in the UK. Nowadays, the condition is much less common.
However, in the last 20 years, TB cases have gradually increased, particularly among ethnic minority communities who are originally from countries where TB is more common. In 2014, more than 6,500 cases of TB were reported in England. Of these, around 4,700 affected people who were born outside of the UK.
How is TB treated?
With treatment, TB can usually be cured. Most people will need a course of antibiotics, usually for six months.
Several different antibiotics are used. This is because some forms of TB are resistant to certain antibiotics. If you are infected with a drug-resistant form of TB, treatment with six or more different medications may be needed.