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Tuberculosis (TB) is a communicable disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Although TB is a disease that can be tracked back to prehistoric times, more than 2 billion people in the world today (about 1/3 of the world’s population) are infected with the TB bacteria. Tuberculosis is spread through the air from person to person by coughing, sneezing, talking or singing. While TB usually affects the lungs (pulmonary TB), it can be present anywhere in the body. Only pulmonary TB is contagious.
TB can be either latent or active. In latent infection, the person has been infected with the TB bacteria but they do not become sick because their body has been able to fight off the infection. This person does not have any symptoms of TB; however the TB germ is still in the body and can become TB disease later in life. To help prevent the bacteria from activating later in life, a person with latent infection can be put on medication to kill the bacteria in the body.
Active TB disease is when the TB germ “wakes up” in the body and causes symptoms such as coughing, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, weakness/fatigue and loss of appetite. Active TB disease is contagious and can be spread from person to person. A person with active TB will most likely be hospitalized and put on about 4 different medications to fight off the disease.
For people whose immune systems are weak, especially those with HIV infection, the risk of developing TB disease is much higher than for people with normal immune systems.
If you think you have been exposed to someone with TB disease, contact your health care provider or local health department to see if you should be tested for TB infection. Be sure to tell the doctor or nurse when you spent time with the person who has TB disease.
The Centers for Disease Control is a good resource to obtain further information.
TB is a reportable disease according to Pennsylvania Code, Title 28, Chapter 27. The Bethlehem Health Bureau (BHB) serves Bethlehem City residents by conducting a TB clinic held every other month. Some services provided by the Bethlehem Health Bureau to tuberculosis patients, suspects, contacts, and others at high risk include:
For information on the Bethlehem Health Bureau’s TB clinic, please call 610-865-7083
The Mantoux Tuberculin Skin Test (TST) is the intradermal injection of purified protein derivative (PPD) usually on the inner forearm. The site is examined by a trained health care worker 48 to 72 hours after injection for induration (palpable swelling). The diameter of induration is measured, in millimeter (mm) and recorded; redness or bruising is disregarded.
A blood test called an Interferon Gamma Release Assay (IGRA) is offered in some cases instead of the TST to help diagnose either LTBI or TB disease. This test is not affected by the BCG vaccination
For more information, call the Bethlehem Health Bureau @ 610-865-7087
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