Tuberculosis: A disease that affects millions of people every year

In this blog we will discuss what tuberculosis is, what its history is, how the disease is transmitted and what symptoms occur if the person is infected with tuberculosis. The topic of tuberculosis will be divided into two blogs. The next one will be published on 11/28/2021.

Tuberculosis is a disease present throughout the planet that has claimed the lives of millions of people, it is estimated that 10 million people were infected with tuberculosis in 2018, therefore it is important to raise awareness about this dangerous disease.


  • 1.What is tuberculosis and what is its history?
  • 2.How is tuberculosis spread?
  • 3.If I get infected with the tuberculosis bacteria, will I get sick right away?
  • 4.What symptoms can I have?
  • 5.Is there a vaccine against tuberculosis?

1. What is tuberculosis and what is its history?

Tuberculosis is a chronic infection caused by a mycobacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis that can affect humans and animals, usually affecting the lungs but can affect other organs such as lymph nodes or bones. If it is not treated in time, it can lead to the death of the patient.

Here we will make a brief summary of the history of tuberculosis, as well as some curiosities:

  • In ancient times the disease is called phthisis (weakening or wasting)
  • In 1700s it was called the white plague because of the paleness it produces in people affected by the disease.
  • At the end of 1700s, the appearance of people with tuberculosis (paleness, thinness, ruddy cheekbones (due to fever)) was considered a standard of beauty.
  • In the early 1800s, this disease was associated with vampires (such as Dracula) due to the absence of an explanation for the disease and the paleness of the people who suffered from it.
  • In 1834, the word tuberculosis was used for the first time.
  • On March 24, 1882, Dr Robert Koch discovered the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis and that is why every March 24 is commemorated the international day of the fight against tuberculosis.
  • In 1921 Albert Calmette and Jean-Marie Camille Guerin created the Bacillus Calmette and Guerin (BCG) vaccine. Which is currently administered in the vaccination scheme of several countries.
  • In 1930, Dr. Florence Seiber produced for the first time the purified protein derivative of tuberculin (PPD) with which today tests are made for the diagnosis of tuberculosis.
  • Since 1951, isoniazid has been used to treat tuberculosis, a primary drug for the treatment of patients with non-resistant tuberculosis. Before this, the only treatment that existed was “eat, sleep and shelter” also known as “lana, letto, latte”.

2. How is tuberculosis spread?

It is transmitted from person to person after inhaling the bacteria expelled by an infected person who is coughing, sneezing, singing or talking. The CDC makes it clear that tuberculosis is not transmitted by:

  • Shaking hands with someone
  • Sharing food or drinks
  • Touching bedding or toilets
  • Sharing the toothbrush
  • Kiss each other

3. If I get infected with tuberculosis bacteria, will I get sick?

Most people who are infected by the bacteria do not have symptoms since their defenses are able to control the infection and prevent damage to the organs, this is called latent tuberculosis infection. The CDC collects the following answers to the most frequently asked questions about people with latent TB:

  • They do not have symptoms
  • They don’t feel sick
  • They cannot pass TB bacteria to others
  • Can be diagnosed by skin or blood tests
  • They can reach tuberculosis disease if treatment is not received, so appropriate antibiotics should be given in case of latent tuberculosis

On the other hand, if the person becomes infected with tuberculosis and his defenses cannot control the infection, what is called tuberculosis disease will appear in which the person will exhibit symptoms of the disease and health complications could appear. It is estimated that up to 10% of people with latent TB develop TB disease.

If you live with a person with tuberculosis disease, consult your doctor so that he can determine the most appropriate tests for you.

4.What symptoms can I have?

Tuberculosis is usually located in the lung causing respiratory symptoms such as a severe cough that usually lasts more than 3 weeks, chest pain, coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm). It can also cause nonspecific symptoms such as fever, weight loss, night sweats (diaphoresis), and weakness or fatigue.

5. Is there a vaccine against tuberculosis?

If it exists since 1921, this vaccine is used in some countries (with high rates of tuberculosis) as a vaccination scheme for newborns. In other countries it is used if the person requires travel to areas with high rates of the disease.

The vaccine affects the result of tuberculosis skin tests, not the result of blood tests. Therefore, the interpretation of any tuberculosis test must be done by someone trained in the field.

With this we end our first blog about tuberculosis. In the following week we will cover diagnosis, treatment and recommendations.

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