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Tuberculosis
Jun 8th, 2012 Headlines

A Boston Latin School student has been diagnosed with Tuberculosis. With this recent diagnosis, it is important to be well informed about the disease and it’s symptoms.

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infection caused by a type of bacterium that likes blood and oxygen. It thrives in the lungs and that is the location where it is most commonly seen, but it can also spread to other parts of the body.

TB can spread from one person to another when someone with active infection breathes or coughs into the air, and someone else breathes in that contaminated air. If the person’s immune system is strong, the bacteria may live in the lungs for a long time, but may not cause symptoms.  This is called latent TB.  Someone with latent TB is not contagious and may not even know they have been infected.  The bacteria can become active, however, and cause symptoms and disease.  Someone with active tuberculosis can spread the germs to other people.

The most common symptom of active TB is a bad cough that lasts for weeks.  A patient may also cough up blood or phlegm and have pain in the chest.  Other possible symptoms include night sweats, fever, chills, and fatigue.

If you have been exposed to someone with active TB, you should see your doctor and have a tuberculosis skin test done.  It may not turn positive for 8-10 weeks after exposure, so you may need to be tested more than once to make sure you’re not infected.  If you have been infected, it usually takes a while before you would begin to develop symptoms, allowing doctors time to give you medication to prevent active disease.

In most cases, active TB can be treated with antibiotics.  There is concern about drug resistant strains out there, but for most people there is a combination of drugs that work.  If left untreated, it can be fatal.  In fact, in the early 1990’s it killed 1 out of every 7 people in the United States.

Tuberculosis is more dangerous in children than adults, especially babies and young children because they have weaker immune systems.  Other people who are at greater risk include those with HIV, diabetes, and those with weak immune systems.

In the Boston Latin student’s case of TB, it sounded like there was fortunately only a small number of children and faculty who had significant contact with the sick student. Most of the children in the school were not at risk.  Even among the children who may have had exposure, the school is taking appropriate measures to evaluate those children over the next few months.  If a child develops a positive TB test, there is time to prevent active disease.  Overall, parents should not be overly concerned. The sick child will be kept at home until he or she can safely return, and therefore, there is no need to keep your child out of school.

To watch my NECN segment click here

To read the Boston.com article click here



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