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What causes tuberculosis?
The cause of TB is infection of human tissue(s) by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis (mycobacteria). These bacteria are slow growing, aerobic, and can grow within body cells (an intracellular parasitic bacterium). Its unique cell wall helps protect it from the body's defenses and gives mycobacteria the ability to retain certain dyes like fuschsin (a reddish dye) after an acid rinse that rarely happens with other bacterial, fungal, or parasitic genera.
Mycobacteria that escape destruction by body defenses may be spread by blood or lymphatic pathways to most organs, with preference to those that oxygenate well (lungs, kidneys, and bones, for example). Typical TB lesions, termed granulomas, usually consist of a central necrotic area, then a zone with macrophages, giant Langerhans cells and lymphocytes that become surrounded by immature macrophages, plasma cells, and more lymphocytes. These granulomas also contain mycobacteria. In latent infections, a fibrous capsule usually surrounds the granulomas, and in some people, the granulomas calcify, but if the immune defenses fail initially or at a later time (reactivate), the bacteria continue to spread and disrupt organ functions.