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Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the oldest diseases known to humanity, dating back to ancient Egypt. TB kills nearly 3 million people each year. It is caused by infection with Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. TB usually attacks the lungs, causing pulmonary TB. The cells of the immune system fight back but usually cannot kill all of the germs. The germs can cause holes in the lungs. TB can also affect the lymph nodes, pleura, kidneys, joints and in fact any parts of the body. TB is spread by inhalation of droplets when people with active TB disease cough, sneeze, talk, sing or spit. However prolonged exposure is required before you are infected. Family members and colleagues are at greatest risk of infection.

One third of the world are currently infected with TB. Most people infected never become infectious or sick because their immune system walls off the TB germs. Only 5-10 percent of TB – infected people become sick. People with weakened immune system have a much greater chance of becoming sick with TB. For examples HIV positive people infected with TB have more than a 30 times greater risk.

Symptoms of TB includes coughing, blood stained sputum, weight loss, fever and night sweats. Left untreated, 50 percent will die within 5 years and most others will be seriously debilitated. To confirm the sickness, a chest x-ray will be taken and if suggestive, the sputum is sent for examination under a microscope and culture. If they are positive, you have infectious TB which can spread to your close contacts.

TB is usually treated on an outpatient basis. You have to take a combination of medicines (rifampicin, isoniazid, ethambutol, pyrazinamide, streptomycin) for a total of 6 to 9 months. Most of these are tablets or capsules. Some may need injections for the first two months. The medicines for TB are generally safe. However, some patients may experience certain side effects like giddiness, skin rashes, nausea and jaundice. Treatment is long as TB germs are hard to kill. You will start to feel better after the first few weeks. You must take your medicine until the full course is finished to be completely cured. If you do not finish the course, the TB germs that remain in the body will grow and you will fall sick again. This time, it may become resistant to the medicines that you have been taking. You will now need to take different kinds of medicines. These new medicines must be taken for a longer period of time and usually have more side effects. When you become sick again, you could also spread your drug resistant TB germs to your family and loved ones.

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