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-Guérin (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 have 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 testing 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.
Main symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis
When the disease becomes active, 75% of the cases are pulmonary TB. Symptoms include chest pain, coughing up blood, and a productive, prolonged cough for more than three weeks. Systemic symptoms include fever, chills, night sweats, appetite loss, weight loss, pallor, and often a tendency to fatigue very easily.
Bacterial species tuberculosis
The primary cause of TB, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is an aerobic bacterium that divides every 16 to 20 hours, an extremely slow rate compared with other bacteria, which usually divide in less than an hour. (For example, one of the fastest-growing bacteria is a strain of E. coli that can divide roughly every 20 minutes.) Since MTB has a cell wall but lacks a phospholipid outer membrane, it is classified as a Gram-positive bacterium. However, if a Gram stain is performed, MTB either stains very weakly Gram-positive or does not retain dye due to the high lipid & mycolic acid content of its cell wall. MTB is a small rod-like bacillus that can withstand weak disinfectants and survive in a dry state for weeks. In nature, the bacterium can grow only within the cells of a host organism, but M. tuberculosis can be cultured in vitro.
Using histological stains on expectorate samples from phlegm (also called sputum), scientists can identify MTB under a regular microscope. Since MTB retains certain stains after being treated with acidic solution, it is classified as an acid-fast bacillus (AFB).The most common acid-fast staining technique, the Ziehl-Neelsen stain, dyes AFBs a bright red that stands out clearly against a blue background. Other ways to visualize AFBs include an auramine-rhodamine stain and fluorescent microscopy.
When people suffering from active pulmonary TB cough, sneeze, speak, or spit, they expel infectious aerosol droplets 0.5 to 5 µm in diameter. A single sneeze can release up to 40,000 droplets. Each one of these droplets may transmit the disease, since the infectious dose of tuberculosis is very low and the inhalation of just a single bacterium can cause a new infection.
People with prolonged, frequent, or intense contact are at particularly high risk of becoming infected, with an estimated 22% infection rate. A person with active but untreated tuberculosis can infect 10–15 other people per year. Others at risk include people in areas where TB is common, people who inject drugs using unsanitary needles, residents and employees of high-risk congregate settings, medically under-served and low-income populations, high-risk racial or ethnic minority populations, children exposed to adults in high-risk categories, patients immunocompromised by conditions such as HIV/AIDS, people who take immunosuppressant drugs, and health care workers serving these high-risk clients.
Transmission can only occur from people with active — not latent — TB. The probability of transmission from one person to another depends upon the number of infectious droplets expelled by a carrier, the effectiveness of ventilation, the duration of exposure, and the virulence of the M. tuberculosis strain. The chain of transmission can, therefore, be broken by isolating patients with active disease and starting effective anti-tuberculous therapy. After two weeks of such treatment, people with non-resistant active TB generally cease to be contagious. If someone does become infected, then it will take at least 21 days, or three to four weeks, before the newly infected person can transmit the disease to others. TB can also be transmitted by eating meat infected with TB. Mycobacterium bovis causes TB in cattle. (See details below.)
About 90% of those infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis have asymptomatic, latent TB infection (sometimes called LTBI), with only a 10% lifetime chance that a latent infection will progress to TB disease. However, if untreated, the death rate for these active TB cases is more than 50%.
TB infection begins when the mycobacteria reach the pulmonary alveoli, where they invade and replicate within the endosomes of alveolar macrophages. The primary site of infection in the lungs is called the Ghon focus, and is generally located in either the upper part of the lower lobe, or the lower part of the upper lobe. Bacteria are picked up by dendritic cells, which do not allow replication, although these cells can transport the bacilli to local (mediastinal) lymph nodes. Further spread is through the bloodstream to other tissues and organs where secondary TB lesions can develop in other parts of the lung (particularly the apex of the upper lobes), peripheral lymph nodes, kidneys, brain, and bone.All parts of the body can be affected by the disease, though it rarely affects the heart, skeletal muscles, pancreas and thyroid.
Tuberculosis is classified as one of the granulomatous inflammatory conditions. Macrophages, T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes and fibroblasts are among the cells that aggregate to form a granuloma, with lymphocytes surrounding the infected macrophages. The granuloma functions not only to prevent dissemination of the mycobacteria, but also provides a local environment for communication of cells of the immune system. Within the granuloma, T lymphocytes (CD4+) secrete cytokines such as interferon gamma, which activates macrophages to destroy the bacteria with which they are infected. T lymphocytes (CD8+) can also directly kill infected cells.
Importantly, bacteria are not always eliminated within the granuloma, but can become dormant, resulting in a latent infection. Another feature of the granulomas of human tuberculosis is the development of cell death, also called necrosis, in the center of tubercles. To the naked eye this has the texture of soft white cheese and was termed caseous necrosis.
If TB bacteria gain entry to the bloodstream from an area of damaged tissue they spread through the body and set up many foci of infection, all appearing as tiny white tubercles in the tissues. This severe form of TB disease is most common in infants and the elderly and is called miliary tuberculosis. Patients with this disseminated TB have a fatality rate of approximately 20%, even with intensive treatment.
In many patients the infection waxes and wanes. Tissue destruction and necrosis are balanced by healing and fibrosis. Affected tissue is replaced by scarring and cavities filled with cheese-like white necrotic material. During active disease, some of these cavities are joined to the air passages bronchi and this material can be coughed up. It contains living bacteria and can therefore pass on infection. Treatment with appropriate antibiotics kills bacteria and allows healing to take place. Upon cure, affected areas are eventually replaced by scar tissue.
Mantoux tuberculin skin test
Tuberculosis is diagnosed definitively by identifying the causative organism (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) in a clinical sample (for example, sputum or pus). When this is not possible, a probable diagnosis may be made using imaging (X-rays or scans) and/or a tuberculin skin test.
The main problem with tuberculosis diagnosis is the difficulty in culturing this slow-growing organism in the laboratory (it may take 4 to 12 weeks for blood or sputum culture). A complete medical evaluation for TB must include a medical history, a physical examination, a chest X-ray, microbiological smears and cultures. It may also include a tuberculin skin test, a serological test. The interpretation of the tuberculin skin test depends upon the person's risk factors for infection and progression to TB disease, such as exposure to other cases of TB or immunosuppression.
Currently, latent infection is diagnosed in a non-immunized person by a tuberculin skin test, which yields a delayed hypersensitivity type response to an extract made from M. tuberculosis. Those immunized for TB or with past-cleared infection will respond with delayed hypersensitivity parallel to those currently in a state of infection, so the test must be used with caution, particularly with regard to persons from countries where TB immunization is common. Tuberculin tests have the disadvantage in that they may produce false negatives, especially when the patient is co-morbid with sarcoidosis, Hodgkins lymphoma, malnutrition, or most notably active tuberculosis disease. New TB tests are being developed that offer the hope of cheap, fast and more accurate TB testing. These include polymerase chain reaction detection of bacterial DNA, and assays to detect the release of interferon gamma in response to mycobacterial proteins such as ESAT-6. These are not affected by immunization or environmental mycobacteria, so generate fewer false positive results. The development of a rapid and inexpensive diagnostic test would be particularly valuable in the developing world.
Progression from TB infection to TB disease occurs when the TB bacilli overcome the immune system defenses and begin to multiply. In primary TB disease—1–5% of cases—this occurs soon after infection. However, in the majority of cases, a latent infection occurs that has no obvious symptoms. These dormant bacilli can produce tuberculosis in 2–23% of these latent cases, often many years after infection. The risk of reactivation increases with immunosuppression, such as that caused by infection with HIV. In patients co-infected with M. tuberculosis and HIV, the risk of reactivation increases to 10% per year.
Patients with diabetes mellitus are at increased risk of contracting tuberculosis, and they have a poorer response to treatment, possibly due to poorer drug absorption.
Treatment for TB uses antibiotics to kill the bacteria. The two antibiotics most commonly used are rifampicin and isoniazid. However, instead of the short course of antibiotics typically used to cure other bacterial infections, TB requires much longer periods of treatment (around 6 to 12 months) to entirely eliminate mycobacteria from the body. Latent TB treatment usually uses a single antibiotic, while active TB disease is best treated with combinations of several antibiotics, to reduce the risk of the bacteria developing antibiotic resistance. People with latent infections are treated to prevent them from progressing to active TB disease later in life. However, treatment using Rifampicin and Pyrazinamide is not risk-free. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notified healthcare professionals of revised recommendations against the use of rifampin plus pyrazinamide for treatment of latent tuberculosis infection, due to high rates of hospitalization and death from liver injury associated with the combined use of these drugs.
Drug resistant tuberculosis is transmitted in the same way as regular TB. Primary resistance occurs in persons who are infected with a resistant strain of TB. A patient with fully-susceptible TB develops secondary resistance (acquired resistance) during TB therapy because of inadequate treatment, not taking the prescribed regimen appropriately, or using low quality medication. Drug-resistant TB is a public health issue in many developing countries, as treatment is longer and requires more expensive drugs. Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) is defined as resistance to the two most effective first-line TB drugs: rifampicin and isoniazid. Extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) is also resistant to three or more of the six classes of second-line drugs.The DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment Short-course) strategy of tuberculosis treatment based on clinical trials done in the 1970s by Tuberculosis Research Centre, Chennai, India, focusing on a neglected area of infectious disease control is now showing promising results in effectively treating all TB cases in the community.
All first-line anti-tuberculous drug names have a standard three-letter and a single-letter abbreviation:
ethambutol is EMB or E,
isoniazid is INH or H,
pyrazinamide is PZA or Z,
rifampicin is RMP or R,
Streptomycin is STM or S.
The US commonly uses abbreviations and names that are not internationally recognized: rifampicin is called rifampin and abbreviated RIF; streptomycin is commonly abbreviated SM.
Drug regimens are similarly abbreviated in a standardized manner. The drugs are listed using their single letter abbreviations (in the order given above, which is roughly the order of introduction into clinical practice). A prefix denotes the number of months the treatment should be given for; a subscript denotes intermittent dosing (so 3 means three times a week) and no subscript means daily dosing. Most regimens have an initial high-intensity phase, followed by a continuation phase (also called a consolidation phase or eradication phase): the high-intensity phase is given first, then the continuation phase, the two phases divided by a slash.
So, 2HREZ/4HR3 means isoniazid, rifampicin, ethambutol, pyrazinamide daily for two months, followed by four months of isoniazid and rifampicin given three times a week.
These standard abbreviations are used in the rest of this article.
There are six classes of second-line drugs (SLDs) used for the treatment of TB. A drug may be classed as second-line instead of first-line for one of two possible reasons: it may be less effective than the first-line drugs (e.g., p-aminosalicylic acid); or, it may have toxic side-effects (e.g., cycloserine); or it may be unavailable in many developing countries (e.g., fluoroquinolones):
aminoglycosides: e.g., amikacin (AMK), kanamycin (KM);
polypeptides: e.g., capreomycin, viomycin, enviomycin;
fluoroquinolones: e.g., ciprofloxacin (CIP), levofloxacin, moxifloxacin (MXF);
thioamides: e.g. ethionamide, prothionamide
cycloserine (the only antibiotic in its class);
p-aminosalicylic acid (PAS or P).
Other drugs that may be useful, but are not on the WHO list of SLDs:
macrolides: e.g., clarithromycin (CLR);
These drugs may be considered "third-line drugs" and are listed here either because they are not very effective (e.g., clarithromycin) or because their efficacy has not been proven (e.g., linezolid, R207910). Rifabutin is effective, but is not included on the WHO list because for most developing countries, it is impractically expensive.
Monitoring and DOTS
DOTS stands for "Directly Observed Therapy, Short-course" and is a major plank in the WHO global TB eradication programme. The DOTS strategy focuses on five main points of action. These include government commitment to control TB, diagnosis based on sputum-smear microscopy tests done on patients who actively report TB symptoms, direct observation short-course chemotherapy treatments, a definite supply of drugs, and standardized reporting and recording of cases and treatment outcomes. The WHO advises that all TB patients should have at least the first two months of their therapy observed (and preferably the whole of it observed): this means an independent observer watching tuberculosis patients swallow their anti-TB therapy. The independent observer is often not a healthcare worker and may be a shopkeeper or a tribal elder or similar senior person within that society. DOTS is used with intermittent dosing (thrice weekly or 2HREZ/4HR3). Twice weekly dosing is effective but not recommended by the WHO, because there is no margin for error (accidentally omitting one dose per week results in once weekly dosing, which is ineffective).
Treatment with properly implemented DOTS has a success rate exceeding 95% and prevents the emergence of further multi-drug resistant strains of tuberculosis. Administering DOTS, decreases the possibilities of tuberculosis from reoccurring, resulting in a reduction in unsuccessful treatments. This is in part due to the fact that areas without the DOTS strategy generally provide lower standards of care. Areas with DOTS administration help lower the number of patients seeking help from other facilities where they are treated with unknown treatments resulting in unknown outcomes. However if the DOTS program is not implemented or done so incorrectly positive results will be unlikely. In order for the program to work efficiently and accurately health providers must be fully engaged, links must be built between public and private practitioners, health services must be available to all, and global support is provided to countries trying to reach their TB prevention, and treatment aims.
Self-administered therapy (SAT), is another form of treatment for tuberculosis, however it does not have a reliable efficiency rate. Patients receiving SAT are known to be negligent in completing their treatment programs, resulting in relapses.
Some people recommend monthly surveillance until cultures convert to negative; this does not form any part of the UK or WHO recommendations for TB. If cultures are positive or symptoms do not resolve after three months of treatment, it is necessary to re-evaluate the patient for drug-resistant disease or nonadherence to drug regimen. If cultures do not convert to negative despite three months of therapy, consider initiating directly observed therapy.
TB prevention and control takes two parallel approaches. In the first, people with TB and their contacts are identified and then treated. Identification of infections often involves testing high-risk groups for TB. In the second approach, children are vaccinated to protect them from TB. Unfortunately, no vaccine is available that provides reliable protection for adults. However, in tropical areas where the levels of other species of mycobacteria are high, exposure to nontuberculous mycobacteria gives some protection against TB.
The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) declared TB a global health emergency in 1993, and the Stop TB Partnership developed a Global Plan to Stop Tuberculosis that aims to save 14 million lives between 2006 and 2015. Since humans are the only host of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, eradication would be possible: a goal that would be helped greatly by an effective vaccine.
Many countries use Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine as part of their TB control programs, especially for infants. According to the W.H.O., this is the most often used vaccine worldwide, with 85% of infants in 172 countries immunized in 1993. This was the first vaccine for TB and developed at the Pasteur Institute in France between 1905 and 1921. However, mass vaccination with BCG did not start until after World War II. The protective efficacy of BCG for preventing serious forms of TB (e.g. meningitis) in children is greater than 80%; its protective efficacy for preventing pulmonary TB in adolescents and adults is variable, ranging from 0 to 80%.
BCG provides some protection against severe forms of pediatric TB, but has been shown to be unreliable against adult pulmonary TB, which accounts for most of the disease burden worldwide. Currently, there are more cases of TB on the planet than at any other time in history and most agree there is an urgent need for a newer, more effective vaccine that would prevent all forms of TB—including drug resistant strains—in all age groups and among people with HIV.