Tuberculosis is an infection caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. These bacteria most commonly infect the lungs, although other parts of the body can become infected.
How is it spread?
TB is spread through the air from one person to another by inhaling tiny droplets of infected material that has been coughed or sneezed by a person with active tuberculosis (also called tuberculosis disease or active TB).
During the early period following infection, TB spreads in the body but causes no symptoms. The early infection in the lungs is so small that it can’t be seen on a chest x-ray. At this point, the infected person does not feel sick and is not contagious—he or she has latent tuberculosis infection without tuberculosis disease.
If latent TB Infection is not treated, there is up to a 10% chance of developing active TB (tuberculosis disease) in the individual’s lifetime. If TB is treated with medication at this time, it greatly reduces chances of progression of the problem to active TB (tuberculosis disease).
Active TB causes cough, fever, weight loss, night sweats, coughing up blood, fatigue and other symptoms. In this stage the disease can be transmitted to anyone around the infected person. Without treatment, you can die from the disease.
Tuberculosis screening and detection is done by a tuberculin skin test (Mantoux test) where a small amount of fluid is injected in the skin of the arm. The test is very safe, even during pregnancy. The injection site is examined 48 to 72 hours later to see the reaction. A positive skin test means that a person has been infected with TB. This usually does not mean that the infected person has active TB. A clinical evaluation, a chest x-ray, and a sputum evaluation will be done to verify the presence or absence of active TB. Once the tuberculin skin test is positive, it usually stays positive indefinitely and is not repeated. There is also a blood test to detect TB infection. Currently it is available only through a hospital laboratory and is very expensive.
If you are found to have latent tuberculosis infection without disease you will usually be offered 3 different options for treatment:
- Isoniazid (INH) daily for 9 months – You will be seen by your clinician every month, cost: $
- Rifampin daily for 4 months – You will be seen by your clinician every month, cost: $$
- INH /Rifapentene once per week for 12 weeks – You will be seen by your clinician every week, cost: $$-$$$ (varies by pharmacy)
You will be followed regularly to ensure that there are no significant side effects and that TB disease has not developed. If you are found to have active TB, you will be referred to the Public Health Department for treatment and contagion management.
Treatment of Latent TB Infection
The medications for treatment of latent TB infection are fairly safe and effective when taken properly. However, as with any medication, there can be side effects. Some side effects that can occur are orange-colored urine, saliva, tears, and discoloring of contact lenses. If you take other medications or use alcohol, please be sure to discuss this with your clinician.
If the following symptoms develop, they may be an indication of liver or nerve pathology. If they occur, stop the medicines and call Student Health Services at 909-869-4000 to make an appointment with your clinician:
- Excessive fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain
- Yellow color of the whites of the eyes or the skin
- Unexplained fever
- Tingling, numbness or persistent pains in the extremities
- Cola-colored urine or light stools
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Head or body aches
You will need to make an appointment to be seen by your clinician every week or month (depending on which treatment option you choose) to evaluate your condition, monitor you for side effects and get a new prescription.
Upon completion of the full course of treatment, ask Student Health Services for written documentation of treatment completion as you may need to provide this information to other schools, prospective employers, or others.