Recently, I came across an interesting article about pediatric tuberculosis.  I believe that accurate health informaiton helps families stay healthy and thrive. The following is a brief review of tuberculosis, so that families can work with their health care provider to identify risk factors that need further investigation.

What Causes Tuberculosis?  Tuberculosis(TB) is a disease caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis(M.tuberculosis).  Tuberculosis is commonly known as an respiratory illness.    The tricky part of TB is that not everyone that is infected with the bacteria will develop the disease.  This creates two TB-related conditions: latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) and tuberculosis disease.  Tuberculosis disease can be fatal if not properly managed, so it is important to understand the role of prevention and intervention.

What is Latent Tuberculosis Infection (LTBI)?  Latent Tuberculosis Infection occurs when someone has been infected by the bacteria, but they are not sick from the germ.  To be clear, the bacteria is in the body, but the immune system is keeping it from multiplying and causing illness.  These individuals do not feel sick, they can not spread the bacteria to others, they usually have a positive tuberculin skin test and may develop disease if the latent phase is not treated.

What is Tuberculosis Disease?  Tuberculosis disease is when M. tuberculosis is actively multiplying in the body and the individual develops symptoms, such as persistent cough, chest pain, coughing up blood, weight loss, fatigue, fever, and night sweats.  Only a person with tuberculosis disease can spread the germ and expose others.

Who is at Risk for Developing Tuberculosis Disease?  Five to 10 % of individuals with LTBI, who do not receive treatment, will develop tuberculosis disease.  Of the individuals infected with M. tuberculosis, those recently infected and those with impaired immune systems are at the greatest risk for developing TB.  Children who have been recently exposed are at high risk of developing tuberculosis disease.

Who Should Receive a Tuberculin Skin Test or Blood Test?  Health Providers use screening questionnaires to determine who needs a tuberculin skin test or blood test. The people at greatest risk of infection include close contacts of a person with active TB, those who emigrate from areas with high rates of TB, residents or employees of jails, homeless shelters or nursing homes.

How Is LTBI diagnosed?   Latent tuberculosis infection is diagnosed with a medical history, physical exam, tuberculin skin test or blood test and chest x-ray.  If a patient has a positive tuberculin skin test or blood test, normal physical exam and normal chest x-ray, that patient is diagnosed with LTBI.

What is the Management of LTBI?  Individuals diagnosed with LTBI should receive medication to prevent the development of tuberculosis disease. It is the early identification and management of LTBI that has resulted in the infection control of this bacteria in the US.

What is the Management of TB?  Individuals diagnosed with TB should receive medications to treat the disease.