Tuberculosis, or TB, is a disease that is caused by a form of bacteria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is in the same family as the bacterium that causes leprosy. Every year TB is responsible for the deaths of three million people around the world, many of these in the developing world. In places such as Africa the spread of TB has increased greatly with the spread of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). In the United Kingdom, over seven thousand people develop TB every year.
The rates of TB infections have risen in the UK over the last ten to fifteen years. This is in part due to people traveling to Britain from other countries where TB is more common, and where the TB vaccine is not given routinely. TB has also become resistant to some of the medications that are used to kill it.
Symptoms of TB include: a cough, which sometimes produces sputum (or phlegm) with blood in it; weight loss; fevers, particularly at night; pains in the chest; or just not feeling quite right. Some people have TB without any symptoms at all, or with very few and this is why it can spread between many family members before anyone realizes that anything is wrong.
TB can be diagnosed by your GP, or a specialist doctor, who will need to test your sputum, and take an X-ray of your chest. The treatment for TB involves taking tablets for quite some time - sometimes for over six months. If you develop TB, family members and close friends may need to be checked as well.
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