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Respiratory Diseases - Tuberculosis

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Tuberculosis is an infectious disease of the lungs caused by bacteria called tubercle bacilli. It was one of the major causes of death until the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s. The bacillus is transmitted by the coughing of an individual who has an advanced case of the disease and infects the lungs of uninfected people who inhale the infected droplets. The disease is also spread through unpasteurized milk, since animals can be infected with the bacteria. The disease is dormant in different parts of the body until it becomes active and attacks the lungs, leading to a chronic infection with such symptoms as fatigue, loss of weight, night fevers and chills, and persistent coughing that brings up sputumstreaked blood. The virulent form of the infection can then spread to other parts of the body. Without treatment the condition is usually fatal.

In the past, well-to-do tubercular patients were often sent to rest homes called sanitoriums, preferably located in a mountain area or desert retreat, so they could enjoy the benefits of clean air. Today, tuberculosis is treated with antituberculous drugs, such as streptomycin, which are taken over a long period of time.

Populations most at risk of contracting TB are people who have certain types of medical conditions or use drugs for medical conditions that weaken the immune system; people in low-income groups; people from poorer countries with high TB rates; people who work in or are residents of long-term care facilities (nursing homes, prisons, hospitals); and people who are very underweight, as well as alcoholics and intravenous drug users.

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