By Meron Tesfai
Tuberculosis (TB) was once the leading cause of death in the United States. In 2010, there were 11,842 new active TB cases in the US. Almost one-third (2.2 billion) of the world’s population is infected with TB, and the highest numbers of new cases are seen in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Although new cases of TB are relatively low in the United States, people with weak immune systems may be especially at risk for TB.
World TB increases public awareness that TB remains a serious health concern, so take a minute to learn more about this disease.
What is TB?
TB is a disease caused by bacteria and is spread through the air. When someone with active TB disease coughs, sneezes, or shouts, they can spray these germs into the air. If another person breathes in these germs, they can get TB. A person with active TB disease may feel tired, have a cough, fever, and night sweats. The disease usually affects the lungs, but can infect other parts of the body, too.
Many people may have the TB germ in their body, but do not feel sick. !his is because TB germs can remain inactive in the body for a period of time. A person who has the TB germs in their body and does not feel sick is not able to spread the illness to others. However, if left untreated, this infection can become active TB disease.
How can I find out if I have TB?
A simple skin test can tell if you have the TB germ in your body. A person who believes they may have been exposed to someone with TB disease should consult with their doctor or nurse regarding next steps. There is medication available for people infected with TB. TB can be cured!
The Boston Public Health Commission closely monitors active cases of TB disease in Boston. BPHC works together with healthcare facilities and community agencies to evaluate, treat, and monitor persons who may have TB in order to prevent further spread of disease. In addition, BPHC operates a TB Clinic located at Boston Medical Center. Information on making a referral to the TB Clinic is available here.
For more information on TB, click here. Or listen to the CDC’s Podcast about World TB Day.
Meron Tesfai is a project manager in the Infectious Disease Bureau’s Education and Outreach Office.