It kills nearly two million people every year, and one third of the world’s population carries the bacteria that can potentially spread the infection. Tuberculosis (commonly called TB) is a contagious lung disease with deadly implications that can affect anyone regardless of race or nationality. A new person is infected every second, but you can arm yourself against tuberculosis with prevention and treatment information.

The Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America has a new publication on TB that can be ordered online. In the health alert, you can learn more about how this disease is spread and what you can do to stay in good health.

Tuberculosis infects the lungs. It is airborne bacteria, and you most commonly catch it by breathing it in. In spite of its contagious nature, it is not easy to get TB. You have to be in close contact with an infected, untreated individual such as a co-worker, roommate or spouse for an extended period of time.

Active TB can make you physically sick and cause you to spread the bacteria to others. Signs that you have active TB can be any of the following:

  • Persistent cough, lasting more than two weeks, that brings up discolored or bloody mucus from the lungs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Chills

Many people infected with TB are unaware that they have it. A person can carry the infection (called latent TB) without symptoms, because the virus is dormant inside of the body. Also, latent TB is not contagious.  However, latent TB can turn into active TB when the body is unable to keep the infection at bay.

Fortunately, TB is a treatable disease. Generations ago, infected individuals would have to be quarantined for years in hospitals or sanitariums. Today with antibiotic medication, you can destroy the bacteria while still going about your daily life. The key is early detection.

The American Lung Association advises everyone to get a TB skin test administered by a health professional at least once a year. Certain sectors of the population are at a higher risk than others. Those who should get screened for TB include:

  • Anyone who has the symptoms listed above or who have been in close contact with an infected person
  • Hospital and health care workers
  • Alcoholics and drug addicts
  • The homeless
  • Those in poverty or who do not have adequate health care
  • Nursing home residents
  • Anyone with a poor immune system

A great way to ward off germs that cause TB is to get and stay healthy. A lifestyle of eating nutritiously, exercising and getting enough sleep will keep your body fit and build a strong defense against infection.

[Jennifer E. Jones]