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Chest X-ray of a person with advanced tuberculosis. White arrows point to infection in both lungs. Black arrows point to a cavity that has formed.
TB is caused by several types of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The disease usually attacks the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body. The bacteria can travel through the air and spread from one person to the next. This happens when infected people cough, sneeze, or spit. Between five and ten people show symptoms, for every hundred people infected. In these people, the disease is called active. Tuberculosis kills more than half of the people who are infected if they do not get treatment.
Detection and treatment
Diagnosis of active TB relies on radiology. Doctors often look at an X-ray of the chest. In addition, they check body fluids. These fluids have microbes in them, which are grown in cell cultures. The cell cultures are then analysed to see if the person is infected with TB.
TB used to be easily treated and cured with antibiotics. However, the bacterium is now highly resistant to most antibiotics. This resistance makes treatment difficult. Many different kinds of antibiotics need to be given over a long period of time. There is a form of tuberculosis that is resistant to all drugs.
Experts believe that one third of the world population is infected with M. tuberculosis. New infections occur at a rate of one per second. In 2007, about 13.7 million chronic cases were active globally. In 2010, about 8.8 million new cases developed and nearly 1.5 million people died from the disease, most of them in developing countries. The number of tuberculosis cases has been decreasing since 2006, and new cases have decreased since 2002.
Tuberculosis does not happen at the same rate around the world. About eighty percent of the population in many Asian and African countries test positive in tuberculin tests, but only five to ten percent of the United States. People usually get tuberculosis because of a weakened immune system. Many people with HIV and AIDS can also get tuberculosis.
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