|Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious and potentially fatal disease that predominantly affects the lungs. While only 10% of people exposed to TB actually advance to the stage of active tuberculosis, the increasing prevalence of HIV and AIDS in recent years has resulted in increased numbers of TB cases. With more people contracting active TB, more people are exposed to the infection.
Like the common cold, TB is transmitted easily through the air when an infected person coughs and sneezes, as well as through the exchange of saliva. The bacterium that causes TB is only spread through people with the active disease in their lungs. However, a healthy person can become infected by inhaling only a small amount of this bacterium.
Once infected with the bacteria, this does not necessarily mean that TB will develop. TB symptoms may closely follow initial infection, but the immune system is particularly effective in stopping TB bacteria from affecting the body, and it can thus remain dormant in the lungs without causing illness. This latent tuberculosis bacterium can nevertheless become active (even decades after exposure) if the immune system is weakened, and people with immune deficiency are thus very vulnerable to this disease.
TB is a serious disease that is responsible for approximately 1.6 million deaths a year worldwide, the majority of which occur in the region of Africa. However, TB is treatable and to a large extent, preventable.Since tuberculosis symptoms so closely resemble symptoms from other illnesses, it is advisable to receive a proper diagnosis from a medical professional.