Pulmonary tuberculosis was a very serious public health problem at the beginning of the 20th century. It is estimated that 1 in 7 people died from this cause. Thanks to the development of some drugs, the pathology was controlled since the 1940s.
However, outbreaks of the infection occur from time to time. Pulmonary tuberculosis continues to be a problem, especially due to the appearance of a variety that has been called multi-resistant, which is difficult to treat.
What is pulmonary tuberculosis?
Pulmonary tuberculosis is a disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Usually, this microorganism settles in the lungs, but it can also affect other organs such as the brain and kidneys and structures in the spine.
An important aspect is that pulmonary tuberculosis disease and latent infection are different. The first is a conventional pathology. The second is a condition in which the bacteria are in the body but do not cause the pathology. It’s like she’s asleep.
Most people who inhale the bacteria have an immune system capable of fighting it, and, thanks to this, they prevent it from multiplying. However, the organism is still there, even if there are no signs.
These bacteria can remain inactive for many years or a lifetime. However, if the immune system is weakened, they become activated, multiply and cause pulmonary tuberculosis disease, which can be fatal.
Causes of pulmonary tuberculosis
Pulmonary tuberculosis, being caused by bacteria, is a contagious disease. This means that an infected person can transmit it to another who is not. If the infection is latent, there is no contagion.
The contagion occurs through water droplets from the cough or sneeze of a person who has the disease. Many recover from pulmonary tuberculosis without serious manifestations. However, in some cases, the infection reactivates just a few weeks after having it.
There are some people who are at higher risk of developing pulmonary tuberculosis. Among them are the following groups:
- Babies: under 2 years old.
- Older people: when they are over 60 years old.
- Weakened immune system: either due to a disease such as HIV and diabetes or due to the ingestion of drugs or the application of chemotherapy.
The risk of suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis increases if a person is malnourished in unsanitary conditions or is in contact with infected people. Likewise, outbreaks are more frequent in communities where there are more HIV patients, homeless people or resistant strains.
Factors that do not generate risk
As already noted, a person with latent infection does not spread the disease to others. It is also not transmitted by contacts such as shaking hands with someone or sharing personal items (toothbrush, cutlery).
It is also not contagious if food or drinks are shared, through kisses, through the use of the same toilets or bedding. It is not necessary to disinfect surfaces that have been touched by a person with pulmonary tuberculosis.
Symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis
The most conventional symptom of pulmonary tuberculosis is a severe cough that can last three weeks or more. This cough is usually accompanied by bloody sputum. The affected person feels great discomfort and presents the following manifestations:
- Chest pain.
- Weakness or fatigue with poor appetite, leading to weight loss.
- Fever and chills with night sweats.
- Wheezing in the chest and shortness of breath.
Some people with pulmonary tuberculosis also have the so-called Hippocratic fingers in the advanced stages. These have a widening, in the shape of drumsticks, and a change of angle at the nail exit.
Likewise, it is common to have tenderness or swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck and other parts of the body. Similarly, there may be pleural effusion, that is, fluid around the lung. In some cases, there are complications such as inflammation of the liver, tears and urine that are brown or orange, a rash, and vision changes.
Early detection improves prognosis
Patients with the latent infection do not have any symptoms or feel any discomfort. A skin test or a blood test reveals that they are positive for tuberculosis when tested for another cause. Although there are no manifestations, it is indicated that they start treatment to prevent the disorder’s progression.
When pulmonary tuberculosis is caught early and treated quickly, the prognosis is excellent. Usually, the symptoms disappear in just two or three weeks. If the disease is not treated properly, it can be fatal.