Tuberculosis (abbreviated as TB for tubercle bacillus or Tuberculosis) is a common and often deadly infectious disease caused by mycobacteria, mainly Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs (as pulmonary TB) but can also affect the central nervous system, the lymphatic system, the circulatory system, the genitourinary system, the gastrointestinal system, bones, joints, and even the skin. Other mycobacteria such as Mycobacterium bovis, Mycobacterium africanum, Mycobacterium canetti, and Mycobacterium microti also cause tuberculosis, but these species are less common.
The classic symptoms of tuberculosis are a chronic cough with blood-tinged sputum, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. Infection of other organs causes a wide range of symptoms. The diagnosis relies on radiology (commonly chest X-rays), a tuberculin skin test, blood tests, as well as microscopic examination and microbiological culture of bodily fluids. Tuberculosis treatment is difficult and requires long courses of multiple antibiotics. Contacts are also screened and treated if necessary. Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem in (extensively) multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis. Prevention relies on screening programs and vaccination, usually with Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG vaccine).
Tuberculosis is spread through the air, when people who have the disease cough, sneeze, or spit. One third of the world's current population has been infected with M. tuberculosis, and new infections occur at a rate of one per second. However, most of these cases will not develop the full-blown disease; asymptomatic, latent infection is most common. About one in ten of these latent infections will eventually progress to active disease, which, if left untreated, kills more than half of its victims.
In 2004, mortality and morbidity statistics included 14.6 million chronic active cases, 8.9 million new cases, and 1.6 million deaths, mostly in developing countries. In addition, a rising number of people in the developed world are contracting tuberculosis because their immune systems are compromised by immunosuppressive drugs, substance abuse, or AIDS. The distribution of tuberculosis is not uniform across the globe with about 80% of the population in many Asian and African countries testing positive in tuberculin tests, while only 5-10% of the US population test positive. It is estimated that the US has 25,000 new cases of tuberculosis each year, 40% of which occur in immigrants from countries where tuberculosis is endemic.
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