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Key Information About Tuberculosis

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Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious bacterial disease that affects the lungs. According to WHO, TB remains one of the deadliest infectious killers in the world, as each day, it kills more than 4,100 people, and around 28,000 people fall ill with it. It affects around 25 percent of the world's population.

Once rare in developed nations, TB infections began increasing in 1985, partly because of the emergence of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV weakens the immune system so it cannot fight the TB pathogens.

"The struggle to end TB is not just a struggle against a single disease. It’s also the struggle to end poverty, inequity, unsafe housing, discrimination and stigma, and to extend social protection and universal health coverage," said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in the WHO's Global Tuberculosis report 2021.


Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium causes tuberculosis. These bacteria are small, slow-growing, aerobic bacilli.

They are distinguished by a complex, lipid-rich cell envelope responsible for their characterization as acid-fast (ie, resistant to decolorization by acid after staining with carbolfuchsin) and their relative resistance to Gram stain.

They spread through the air when an infected person (whose lungs are affected) coughs, sneezes, spits, laughs, or talks.

A research study published in 2019 by researchers in both Loma Linda and in the Southeast Asian nation of Laos found that respiratory health and rates of tuberculosis in low-income communities may be severely impacted by controllable external factors like tobacco use.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention people can get a rare type of tuberculosis, called bovine tuberculosis, from deer.

In October 2021, World Health Organization estimated that—because of the COVID-19 pandemic—global deaths from TB had increased for the first time in a decade.

Mycobacterium Tuberculosis

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons


A quarter of the world's population carries a form of tuberculosis that lies dormant without symptoms for a long time, but can break out eventually.

Symptoms of tuberculosis depend on which part of the body is affected. For instance a cough is a common symptom of tuberculosis in the lungs.

Patients with tuberculosis in the lymph nodes will usually have a swollen throat. Aches and pains in the joints could be tuberculosis in the bones.

Constant fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, fever, coughing up blood and night sweats are other known symptoms of this disease.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons


Without treatment, the disease will progress and lead to disability and death. With treatment, the chance of full recovery is very good.


Tuberculosis skin test is used to find out if a person has TB infection. A small amount of testing fluid is injected just under the skin on the underside of the forearm.

After two days, the person must return to have the skin test read by a health care worker to determine if it is positive or negative.

As pulmonary tuberculosis can present with any radiological appearance, sometimes tuberculoma on CT scan can be misdiagnosed as lung cancer or metastasis.

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Docturnal, a healthtech company dedicated to developing solutions for detecting lung-based diseases, has built TimBre, a screening mobile app which diagnoses tuberculosis in patients by recording the sound of their cough.

In April 2022, tuberculosis antigen-based skin tests, a class of tests to diagnose the infection, were evaluated by the World Health Organization and were found to be accurate, acceptable, feasible and cost-effective.

In July 2022, National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis (NIRT), Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, developed a methodology for the extraction of DNA from stool samples for the diagnosis of tuberculosis in paediatric patients.

Chest X-Ray of a TB Patient

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons


Once a dreaded disease with fatal outcomes, tuberculosis is now much better understood and treated.

Tuberculosis is curable because antibiotics kill M. tuberculosis. The patient has to take them for 6 to 9 months. Rifampin, rifapentine, rifabutin and isoniazid are used to treat this disease.

Rifapentine, sold under the brand name Priftin, is an oral antibiotic. It is very effective against tuberculosis.

In active tuberculosis it is used together with other antituberculosis medications. In latent tuberculosis it is typically used with isoniazid.

Rifabutin is an antibiotic used to treat tuberculosis and prevent and treat Mycobacterium avium complex.

It is typically only used in those who cannot tolerate rifampin such as people with HIV/AIDS on antiretrovirals.

For active tuberculosis it is used with other antimycobacterial medications.

New anti-tuberculosis medicine pretomanid will be a game changer for treating people with extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) and those who do not tolerate or respond to now available multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) medicines.

Various toxins are generated during the healing process. They need to be flushed out by the kidneys. So tuberculosis patients should drink at least six liters of water daily.

"This is one of the scariest infectious diseases affecting billions of people worldwide," said professor Helen Zgurskaya, a George Lynn Cross Research Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences. "Like many other bacterial infections, it is becoming more resistant to antibiotics. Currently, the treatment requires a combination of antibiotics taken by patients for six months, but now imagine that the disease does not respond to the treatment. We are out of therapeutic options for this infection, and we need new drugs."

A team of researchers from the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School have found genetic foot prints of tuberculosis bacteria that are resistant to the commonly used anti-tubercular drugs. This could help scientists develop drugs to combat drug resistance in tuberculosis.

— Dr. Ananya Mandal, MD.

Tuberculosis Prevention

Success in producing a product that can provide immunity against tuberculosis came about through the work of two French bacteriologists Albert Calmette and Camile Guerin during 1908-1921. They came out with Bacillus Calmette-Guerin or BCG.

BCG is a live vaccine against this infectious killer disease. It is prepared from a strain of the weakened bovine tuberculosis bacillus, Mycobacterium bovis.

In the 100 years since its first use, the BCG vaccine has not only prevented countless deaths from tuberculosis, but has been widely used to protect against or treat a number of other diseases.

A mainstay on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, it is given to around 100 million children worldwide annually.

The protective effect of the BCG vaccine diminishes over time and is lost by the time children turn 10 or 12.

Do yoga daily. It boosts the immune system.

It is essential that heads of nations worldwide build political will and prioritize efforts to prevent the disease.


More than 95 percent of tuberculosis deaths occur in low- and middle-income nations. Six countries account for 60 percent of the total.

Increased political will, financial resources and research to develop new ways to treat and prevent tuberculosis will help in ending the epidemic.

Good news is that some nations are working seriously towards eradicating this disease. For instance Prime Minister of India has fixed a target of making the nation tuberculosis-free by 2025 and experts are working hard on this agenda.

“The World Health Organization has aimed at eliminating TB by 2035, and the Indian government has vouched to do this by 2025. If this ambitious plan has to succeed, we should be concentrating on not missing out on any case,” says Dr. Sayed E. Hasnain from Jamia Hamdard University in New Delhi.

Game Changing Tuberculosis Vaccine

A team of researchers, who come from all over the world, revealed a vaccine, which is made up of proteins from bacteria which trigger an immune response, during a global summit on lung health in Hyderabad on October 29 2019.

World Tuberculosis Day

Each year, the medical fraternity commemorates World Tuberculosis (TB) Day on March 24 to raise public awareness about the devastating health, social and economic consequences of the disease, and to step up efforts to end this global epidemic.

This date marks the day in 1882 when Dr Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, which opened the way towards diagnosing and curing this disease.

Celebrities Who Suffered From Tuberculosis

Many celebrities suffered from the disease, including poets and artists such as Friedrich Schiller, Lord Byron, and the Bronte family.


TB kills around 1.6 million people annually.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria spread through the air.

Patients with TB in the lymph nodes will usually have a swollen throat.

If not treated, TB can cause disability.

Rifapentine is used to treat TB.


For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Tuberculosis is an infectious _______ disease.
    • protozoal
    • viral
    • bacterial
    • fungal
  2. Which bacterium causes TB?
    • Micobacterium tuberculosis
    • Mycobacterium tuberculosis
    • Mycrobacterium tuberculosis
    • Microbacterium tuberculosis
  3. Which among these is a symptom of TB?
    • Swollen throat
    • Pain
    • Cough
    • All the above
  4. If not treated, TB can kill.
    • True
    • False
  5. There is no vaccine for TB.
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. bacterial
  2. Mycobacterium tuberculosis
  3. All the above
  4. True
  5. False

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Srikanth R

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