Tuberculosis (TB)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

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What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a multisystemic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a rod-shaped bacterium. TB is the most common cause of infectious disease-related mortality worldwide (about 1.1 million to 1.7 million people die from it each year worldwide). TB symptoms can span such a wide range that TB is termed the "great imitator" by many who study infectious diseases because TB symptoms can mimic many different diseases. Additional terms are used to describe TB. The terms include consumption, Pott's disease, active, latent, pulmonary, cutaneous, and others (see the following section), and they appear in both medical and nonmedical publications. In most instances, the different terms refer to a specific type of TB with some unique symptoms or findings. The most common site (about 85%) for TB to develop is in the pulmonary tract. Humans are the only known hosts for Mycobacterium tuberculosis (although animals can get infected).

TB has likely been infecting humans for many centuries; evidence of TB infections has been found in cadavers that date back to about 8000 BC, so the disease has a long history of infecting humans. The Greeks termed it as a wasting away disease (phthisis). For many European countries, TB caused death in about 25% of adults and was the leading cause of death in the U.S. until the early 1900s. Robert Koch discovered TB's cause, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, in 1882. With increased understanding of TB, public-health initiatives, treatment methods like isolation (quarantine), and the development of drugs to treat TB, the incidence of the disease, especially in developed countries, has been markedly reduced. However, the CDC estimates one-third of the world's population is infected with TB with about 1.5 million deaths per year.

There is a vast amount of detailed information available in the medical literature on all aspects of this potentially debilitating and lethal disease. The goal of this article is to introduce the reader to TB and help them to obtain a general knowledge about TB's cause, transmission, diagnostic tests, treatments, and prevention methods.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/2/2016
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