Primary tuberculosis often has no noticeable symptoms in its early stages, which can make early diagnosis and treatment difficult. However, if not treated properly, primary tuberculosis can progress to more severe forms of the disease and cause serious complications.
Deciphering primary tuberculosis: Causes and symptoms
Primary tuberculosis is caused by an infection with the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. These bacteria are spread through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or spits, leaving those tiny airborne droplets. When another person inhales the bacteria, it can settle in the lungs and begin to grow, leading to the development of primary tuberculosis.
The symptoms of primary tuberculosis can be mild or non-existent, only in the early stages of the disease. This can make it difficult to diagnose and treat the infection before it progresses to a more serious stage, which is why it is more dangerous. Some common symptoms of primary tuberculosis can include:
- Cough that lasts more than 2 weeks
- Chest pain
- Fatigue and weakness
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Fever and night sweats
- Difficulty breathing
In many children, primary tuberculosis can also cause symptoms such as a persistent cough, fever, poor weight gain, and failure to thrive.
It is important to seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms, especially if you have been in close contact with someone who has tuberculosis or if you live in an area where tuberculosis is common. Early diagnosis and treatment of primary tuberculosis can help prevent the infection from spreading and progressing to more serious forms of the disease.
What are the serious complications that primary tuberculosis can cause?
We know that if primary tuberculosis is not treated properly, it can progress to more serious forms of the disease and cause serious complications. Some of the serious complications of primary tuberculosis include:
- Miliary tuberculosis: a form of the disease in which bacteria spread throughout the body through the bloodstream, which can lead to organ failure and be life-threatening.
- Meningeal tuberculosis: a form of the disease in which bacteria infect the meninges, the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, which can lead to meningitis and permanent brain damage.
- Pleural Effusion: A buildup of fluid in the space between the lungs and the chest wall, which can cause shortness of breath and chest pain.
- Tracheal Stenosis: An abnormal narrowing of the windpipe, which can cause chronic coughing, shortness of breath, and other breathing problems.
- Respiratory failure: a condition in which the lungs cannot supply enough oxygen to the body, which can be life-threatening.
How is primary tuberculosis diagnosed?
The diagnosis of primary tuberculosis involves a combination of several tests and procedures to confirm the presence of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria or bacillus in the lungs or blood of the patient, and determine the extent of the infection.
- Tuberculin skin test: This test involves injecting a small amount of purified protein derivative (PPD) under the skin of the forearm and evaluating the reaction after 48 or 72 hours. A positive reaction indicates exposure to the bacteria, but it does not confirm active tuberculosis.
- Chest X-ray: A chest X-ray can detect any abnormalities in the lungs, such as the presence of nodules or cavities, which may indicate active tuberculosis.
- Sputum culture: This test involves examining a sample of sputum (phlegm) under a microscope to determine if the bacteria that cause tuberculosis are present. If they are, the bacteria can be grown in a laboratory to confirm the diagnosis and to test for drug resistance.
- Blood tests: Blood tests can be used to detect antibodies to the tuberculosis bacteria or to measure the amount of interferon-gamma released by the immune system in response to the bacteria.
- CT scan: A CT scan can provide more detailed images of the lungs and can help detect any abnormalities that may not be visible on a chest X-ray.
How long does it take to recover from primary tuberculosis?
The time it takes to recover from primary tuberculosis can vary depending on various factors, including the severity of the infection, the age and health of the person, and the effectiveness of the treatment.
Treatment for primary tuberculosis typically involves a combination of antibiotics taken over a period of six months. It is important to take the medication exactly as prescribed by the healthcare provider to ensure that the infection is fully treated and to prevent the development of drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis.
Most people with primary tuberculosis start to feel better within a few weeks of starting treatment. However, it is important to continue taking the medication for the entire six-month course, even if symptoms improve or disappear. Failing to complete the full course of treatment can result in a relapse of the infection, which may be more difficult to treat.
After completing treatment, most people with primary tuberculosis are considered cured and are no longer contagious. However, some people may continue to experience symptoms or complications related to the infection, such as scarring of the lungs or other organs. Regular follow-up with a healthcare provider is important to monitor for any long-term effects of the infection and to ensure that the infection does not return.
How can I prevent the spread of tuberculosis to other people?
To prevent the spread of tuberculosis to others, it is important to take the following steps:
- Cover your mouth and nose: When you cough, sneeze or talk, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or mask to prevent the spread of droplets that may contain the bacteria.
- Stay at home: If you are diagnosed with tuberculosis, it is important to stay at home and avoid close contact with others until you are no longer contagious. Healthcare professionals will give you instructions about when it is safe to return to work or school.
- Ventilate rooms: Open windows and doors to increase ventilation in rooms where people with tuberculosis stay. This can help reduce the concentration of bacteria in the air.
- Wear a mask – If you have tuberculosis and need to leave your home, wear a mask to prevent spreading the bacteria to others.
- Ensure good hygiene: Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. Avoid sharing personal items, such as towels or utensils, with other people.
- Get tested: If you have been in close contact with someone who has tuberculosis or is at high risk of infection, get tested for tuberculosis. Early detection and treatment can help prevent the spread of the disease to other people.