Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that primarily affects the lungs. In some cases, the bacteria can spread to other parts of the body, most frequently the bones, spine, brain or kidneys. The bacteria is identified by a simple test called a PPD test in which five tuberculin units (TU) of PPD are injected into the skin. If irritation occurs, the doctor “reads” or identifies the raised skin that indicates the presence of the tuberculosis bacteria. When the test is positive (the irritation occurs) treatment is necessary.
Treatment depends on whether the tuberculosis is active or is just present as a tuberculosis infection. A tuberculosis infection is diagnosed when the bacteria that causes tuberculosis is found in the lungs, but is not yet active. According to Family Doctor, only 10 percent of people who have the bacteria in their lungs actually develop active tuberculosis. When the tuberculosis bacteria is identified on a skin test, chest X-rays are usually performed to determine whether the infection is active TB or whether the bacteria is present but not yet an active infection. Those with inactive bacteria are not contagious, and no one can catch tuberculosis from them. When the bacteria has not become active, it is usually treated by an antibiotic, called isoniazid, which kills the infection.
When taking isoniazid to kill the tuberculosis bacteria and prevent the tuberculosis from becoming active, it is important not to miss a dose of the pill. Typically, prescriptions instruct that the pill be taken every day for six months. Doctors may request monthly visits during this time period to ensure the tuberculosis has not become active. You cannot drink alcohol or take acetaminophen (like Tylenol) when taking Isoniazid.
Active tuberculosis is a symptomatic illness, which generally causes coughing and fatigue. Four drugs are used in the treatment of active tubercuslosis: Ethambutol, Pyrazinamide, Rifampin and Isoniazid. Generally, you will take all four of these drugs until the tuberculosis infection is resolved (either the bacteria are all killed or become inactive). Most people are on these drugs for approximately six months. Serious side effects can occur as a result of taking these medications, including nausea, stomach pain, a yellowing of the skin, fever, rash, dark-colored urine, itching, numbness or tingling in the feet, fatigue and blurred vision. In addition, it is essential to refrain from drinking alcohol or taking acetaminophen to avoid liver damage. Generally, you will need periodic chest X-rays for the rest of your life to ensure that the bacteria do not return and/or become active again.