About one-third of the world's population is infected by mycobacterium tuberculosis, which kills more people than any other infectious agent. 98% of tuberculosis deaths occur in developing countries.
Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial disease that mainly affects the lungs. In 15% of patients it affects other areas, causing swollen lymph nodes, pleurisy (inflammation of the membranes around the lungs), and meningitis (inflammation of the inner membranes of the brain and spinal cord). It may also affect the kidneys, urinary tract, genitals, thyroid, bones, and joints. TB in the lungs or throat is the most infectious form. In 1993 the World Health Organization called tuberculosis a "global emergency," with an estimated 8 million new cases of tuberculosis each year. Before the discovery of certain antibiotic drugs in the 1940s, TB was the leading cause of death in the United States. Even though there has been an effective public health campaign to stem the tide of rising tuberculosis rates since 1993, it remains one of the most serious public health challenges.
Usually there is a time delay between infection and the development of full-blown TB. Many who are infected with TB never develop the disease. In some people it is possible for the TB bacteria to remain inactive for a lifetime without ever causing disease. But in others, especially those with weakened immune systems, the bacteria become active. It is also common for those who are infected to be asymptomatic (without symptoms) for several months to years. For example, children are more likely than adults to have no symptoms or to show symptoms in other parts of the body besides the lungs. The type of symptoms will depend on where in the body the TB bacteria are growing. Typically, TB bacteria that grow in the lungs may cause:
- Malaise (feeling unwell), fatigue
- Mild fever, headache, chills, night sweats
- Loss of appetite, weight loss
- Cough, with or without mucus and pus
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain from pleurisy
- Difficulty breathing
- Swollen glands
TB is spread from one person to another through airborne bacteria. Typically what happens is that a person with TB in the lungs or the throat coughs or sneezes; then, others nearby breathe in the bacteria. When a person breathes in TB bacteria, the bacteria can settle into the lungs and begin to grow.
Because TB is only spread through inhalation of infected respiratory particles in the air, you are not likely to contract the infection through other means such as handshakes or sharing of dishes and utensils. Another important fact to remember is that people with TB are most likely to spread it to people with whom they spend the most time, family members, friends, classmates, and coworkers. Those at risk for developing TB include:
- Those who work in the healthcare professions or as embalmers
- Those who were born in or have spent time in a country where TB is common (e.g., most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia, except for Japan)
- Those who live in settings where TB is common (e.g., homeless shelters, migrant farm camps, prisons and jails, and some nursing homes or long-term care facilities)
- Those who are infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Those following therapy that suppresses the immune system
- Those who have no or inadequate access to healthcare
Patients at risk for vitamin deficiency (malnourished, alcoholics, elderly, pregnant and nursing mothers) or for nerve degeneration (those with diabetes, HIV, or chronic kidney failure) see below. In addition, recent studies have suggested that a diet lacking in certain nutrients is linked to abnormalities in immune function, resulting in a poor response to TB. These nutrients include:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
As you can see, a strong immune system is the answer. Prevention and cure can be the same if treatment is immediate.
Tuberculosis Information: Dr. Mercola 2/27/2000 - Vitamin D
Tuberculosis Information: Dr. Mercola 7/9/2000 - Tuberculosis May Protect Against Asthma
Tuberculosis Information: Dr. Mercola 11/6/2004 - Sunlight
Tuberculosis Information: Dr. Mercola 3/18/2006 - Vitamin D