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Mycobacterium tuberculosis

1. There are no symptoms associated with inactive TB. This means that someone may have acquired the TB bacteria and yet show no signs or symptoms of infection. Symptoms only appear when the TB infection becomes active.

2. Symptoms develop gradually, and it may take many weeks before you notice that something's wrong and see your doctor. Although the TB bacteria can infect any organ (e.g., kidney, lymph nodes, bones, joints) in the body, the disease commonly occurs in the lungs.

3. Common symptoms include:

  • coughing that lasts longer than 2 weeks with green, yellow, or bloody sputum, weight loss, fatigue, fever, night sweats, chills, chest pain, shortness of breath, loss of appetite
4. The occurrence of additional symptoms depends on where the disease has spread beyond the chest and lungs. For example, if TB spreads to the lymph nodes, it can cause swollen glands at the sides of the neck or under the arms. When TB spreads to the bones and joints, it can cause pain and swelling of the knee or hip. Genitourinary TB can cause pain in the flank with frequent urination, pain or discomfort during urination, and blood in the urine.
Preventive measures

To prevent spreading TB, it's important to get treatment quickly and to follow it through to completion. This can stop transmission of the bacteria and the appearance of antibiotic-resistant strains.

A vaccine is available to limit the spread of bacteria after TB infection. The vaccine is generally used in countries or communities where the risk of TB infection is greater than 1% each year. It is used in newborns in these communities to prevent TB and its complications in the first few years of life. In Canada, there's controversy over the use of this vaccine because it doesn't prevent the initial infection.

If a positive skin test is detected and other tests have confirmed that active TB is not present, your doctor may choose to prescribe a medication that prevents a TB infection from progressing to the active disease. The antibiotic most commonly used is isoniazid, which is usually taken daily for 9 months. Other medications that may be used include rifampin or a combination of isoniazid and rifampin.

It is important to take your medications for as long as your doctor recommends. If you stop taking your medications before your doctor suggests, the TB infection can recur, you could get active TB, or the TB bacteria may become resistant to the medications you are taking.

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