Tuberculosis (TB) is an airbone bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB can be acquired by breathing contaminated air droplets coughed or sneezed by a person nearby who has active Tuberculosis. Humans can also get ill with TB by ingesting unpasteurized milk products contaminated with Mycobacterium bovis, also known as Bovine Tuberculosis. The most common form of the infection is pulmonary TB which affects the lungs. In some cases, the bacteria can also attack the lymphatic system, central nervous system, urogenital area, joints, and bones.
Risk: Tuberculosis occurs worldwide and commonly spreads in cramped, overcrowded conditions. There is no evidence that pulmonary TB is more easily transmitted in airplanes or other forms of public transportation. Travellers with a compromised immune system, long-term travellers, and those visiting friends and relatives (VFR travellers) in areas where Tuberculosis is endemic are at greater risk. Humanitarian and healthcare personnel working in communities with active TB are also at increased risk. Persons with active TB should not travel.
Symptoms: Persons with active TB have symptoms which include excessive coughing (sometimes with blood), chest pain, general weakness, lack of appetite, weight loss, swollen lymph glands, fever, chills, and night sweats. It can be misdiagnosed for bronchitis or pneumonia. If untreated, active TB can lead to fatalities.
The majority of persons with the illness (90% to 95%) have latent TB infection (LTBI) and do not exhibit any symptoms. The bacteria can remain inactive for many years and the chance of developing active TB diminishes over time.
Tuberculosis treatment involves taking antibiotics for a minimum of 6 months. Drug-resistant TB is a major concern as an increasing number of people are no longer able to be treated with previously effective drugs. Due to misuse of antibiotic therapies, patients can develop multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis (MDR TB). When a second line of antibiotics fail to cure the multi-drug resistant infection, it is known as extensively drug-resistant Tuberculosis (XDR TB).
Prevention: Avoid exposure to people known to who have active Tuberculosis and only consume pasteurized milk products. Travellers at higher risk should have a pre-departure tuberculin skin test (TST) and be re-tested upon their return home. Those at increased risk should also consult their healthcare provider to determine if the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine is recommended.
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