Tuberculosis is a potentially life-threatening and sometimes contagious infection which is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. If left untreated, these bacteria often invade and severely damage the lungs, although they may also attack other organs. There are three distinct types of infection, and while tuberculosis treatment varies by infection type, it generally involves a multi-month course of antibiotics. Failure to complete treatment exactly as prescribed can cause tuberculosis bacteria to become drug-resistant, making them extremely difficult to eliminate.
Only a small number of people who are exposed to tuberculosis become infected, and this infection takes one of three forms: latent tuberculosis, active tuberculosis, and drug-resistant active tuberculosis. A skin prick test known as the Mantoux test is the most commonly used method for diagnosing infection. This test may be administered as part of a school- or work-related physical examination, or may be requested by an individual who has been exposed to or shown symptoms of active tuberculosis.
Latent tuberculosis refers to a form of tuberculosis in which the infection remains dormant in the body. This type of tuberculosis causes no symptoms and is not contagious. It can, however, become active in the future, and thus should be treated as soon as it is detected. In latent cases, tuberculosis treatment usually involves taking an antibiotic drug multiple times each week for approximately nine months.
Active tuberculosis is contagious and usually presents a range of symptoms which may include chest pain, coughing, fatigue, fever, chills, and weight loss. Obtaining tuberculosis treatment for an active infection is crucial, as the condition can prove fatal if left untreated. Treatment in active cases usually begins with a two- to four-month course of four antibiotics, taken daily. After this initial period, the number of drugs taken may be reduced to two, which are usually continued for an additional four to nine months.
Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis refers to a rare form of tubercular infection in which the infective bacteria have established immunity against the antibiotics proven most effective in treating the condition. Tuberculosis treatment in this type of case is especially long and may ultimately prove unsuccessful. It generally involves daily dosages of alternative or “second-line” antibiotics which are continued for 18 months to two years.
While tuberculosis treatment requires extreme discipline, completing treatment exactly as prescribed is a critical part of combating the condition. Missing doses or abandoning treatment early can cause infective bacteria to become drug-resistant, greatly increasing the chances that the condition will be fatal. To ensure that a prescribed course of treatment is completed, many physicians require tubercular patients to visit their offices for their daily doses of medication.