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How Do You Get Tuberculosis and How Can It Affect Your Health?

How Do You Get Tuberculosis and How Can It Affect Your Health?

Tuberculosis is an illness that we may hear a lot about, but often do not know enough about. Tuberculosis (TB) can be treated and preventable, yet it is still prevalent in certain parts of the world, including the Philippines. It is crucial that we learn the symptoms and how to prevent contracting the disease. Here is a quick rundown on what you need to know about TB.

What Is Tuberculosis?

A bacteria that is called Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes tuberculosis. It is an ancient pathogen that dates back to as early as 5000 BCE. While people are not sure how the pathogen emerged in our world, many people assume that cattle transmitted it to humans due to close contact. After a while, it evolved to become the bovine tuberculosis strain.

However, TB did not become an epidemic until urbanization grew in the 17th century in Western Europe, which allowed the virus to easily jump from person to person. The epidemic was named the Great White Plague and infected the majority of the European population within 200 years while killing a quarter of the population.

Tuberculosis predominantly affects a person’s lungs. If you have active tuberculosis disease, the bacteria are attacking and multiplying in your lungs and may eventually reach other parts of your body like the spine, brain, kidney, or lymph nodes. Tuberculosis bacteria usually reside in the lungs and find their way to other parts of your body through your lymphatic system or blood.

Latent Tuberculosis

Not everyone who contracts the bacteria will get the exact same reaction. People who have latent tuberculosis have the bacteria inside their bodies, yet are not sick. While a person with latent tuberculosis may have the bacteria in their bodies, they cannot transmit the disease. Many of them may not even realize that they have the infection in the first place.

A person with latent tuberculosis will experience no symptoms that typically come with active tuberculosis. They may feel perfectly normal; however, if they go to a doctor, they will get a positive result in testing. Most people with latent TB have strong bodies and immune systems that can fight the bacteria to prevent it from growing and spreading.

While the majority of people with latent tuberculosis may have inactive bacteria for a lifetime and not develop the disease, that is not always the case. Some people may get active bacteria after months or years.

Normally people who have a weak immune system are more likely to get active tuberculosis because their body cannot keep the bacteria from growing. That is why there is treatment available to prevent an outbreak of the disease.

What Are the Symptoms?

The most common symptoms of tuberculosis are:

  • a cough that lasts for more than three weeks along with coughing up sputum or blood
  • chest pain
  • pain when coughing or breathing

Other symptoms can include:

  • weight loss
  • fatigue or weakness
  • loss of appetite

In addition, some people experience:

  • chills
  • night sweats
  • fever

Remember, symptoms can differ, especially when the bacteria reaches other parts of your body. For instance, you can see blood in the urine if the bacteria is in your kidneys or have back pain if you have the bacteria in your spine.

What Are the Risk Factors?

TB can be prevented and treated. This means that most people, depending on their health, can receive treatment to potentially get cured. However, ignoring the disease or discontinuing treatment can be dangerous. If you decide to skip your treatment, you can infect the people around you. Additionally, you risk contracting TB again and worsening your previous symptoms.

How Do You Contract Tuberculosis?

How does a person get TB in the first place? The tuberculosis bacteria is airborne, meaning it is transported by air.

If a person infected with TB sings, speaks, or coughs they release the bacteria into the air. Other people can inhale the bacteria and potentially get infected. It is commonly believed that close contact such as kissing, holding hands, or sharing drinks can spread the bacteria, but that is not true.

If you live or travel in parts of the world where drug-resistant tuberculosis rates are high, such as Russia or Africa, you may have a higher chance of contracting the disease.

Groups with higher chances of contracting and dying from TB include:

  • People who smoke tobacco
  • Those with a history of substance abuse
  • Low income groups

How Do You Treat and Prevent TB?

Treatment can begin after a diagnosis from a medical professional. Your doctor can properly assess your health and proceed with treatment right away. Treatment for tuberculosis can take a while, since most people may need to take antibiotics for around 6-9 months.

The length of time for treatmentcan vary from person to person. Additionally, in rare cases, some people can have drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Prevention is another crucial part of the treatment that you must follow. It would be best to stay at home and avoid being around other people, especially during the first few weeks of treatment. Small closed spaces help spread germs, so try to ventilate any room you are in.

To reduce the chances of transmission, it would be best to wear a mask in the early stages of treatment. Whenever you cough, laugh, or sneeze, it would be ideal to cover your mouth with a tissue, keep it in a sealed bag, then throw it away as soon as you can.

Key Takeaway

While tuberculosis can be a serious condition, it can be treated and prevented with speedy action and the right safety measures. If you suspect that you have TB, consult your doctor immediately.

Learn more about Infectious Diseases here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/mycobacterium-tuberculosis, Accessed May 4, 2020

Bovine Tuberculosis, https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/bovine-tuberculosis, Accessed May 4, 2020

The great white plague: pulmonary tuberculosis yesterday and today, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/823489, Accessed May 4, 2020

Latent TB Infection and TB Disease, https://www.cdc.gov/tb/topic/basics/tbinfectiondisease.htm, Accessed May 4, 2020

Drug-Resistant TB, https://www.cdc.gov/tb/topic/drtb/default.htm, Accessed May 4, 2020

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Written by Ruby Fernandez Updated Sep 09, 2021
Fact Checked by Vincent Sales