Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious
disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB).
Tuberculosis generally affects the lungs, but can also affect other parts
of the body. Most infections do not have symptoms, in which case it is
known as latent tuberculosis. About 10% of latent infections progress to
active disease which, if left untreated, kills about half of those
infected. The classic symptoms of active TB are a chronic cough with
blood-containing sputum, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. The
historical term "consumption" came about due to the weight loss.
Infection of other organs can cause a wide range of symptoms.
Tuberculosis is spread through the air when people who have active TB in
their lungs cough, spit, speak, or sneeze. People with latent TB do not
spread the disease. Active infection occurs more often in people with
HIV/AIDS and in those who smoke. Diagnosis of active TB is based on chest
X-rays, as well as microscopic examination and culture of body fluids.
Diagnosis of latent TB relies on the tuberculin skin test (TST) or blood
Prevention of TB involves screening those at high risk, early detection
and treatment of cases, and vaccination with the bacillus Calmette-Guérin
vaccine. Those at high risk include household, workplace, and social
contacts of people with active TB. Treatment requires the use of multiple
antibiotics over a long period of time. Antibiotic resistance is a growing
problem with increasing rates of multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).
One-third of the world's population is thought to be infected with TB. New
infections occur in about 1% of the population each year. In 2014, there
were 9.6 million cases of active TB which resulted in 1.5 million deaths.
More than 95% of deaths occurred in developing countries. The number of
new cases each year has decreased since 2000. About 80% of people in many
Asian and African countries test positive while 5–10% of people in the
United States population tests positive by the tuberculin test.
Tuberculosis has been present in humans since ancient times.
Signs and Symptoms
The main symptoms of variants and stages of tuberculosis are given, with
many symptoms overlapping with other variants, while others are more (but
not entirely) specific for certain variants. Multiple variants may be
Tuberculosis may infect any part of the body, but most commonly occurs in
the lungs (known as pulmonary tuberculosis). Extrapulmonary TB occurs when
tuberculosis develops outside of the lungs, although extrapulmonary TB may
coexist with pulmonary TB.
General signs and symptoms include fever, chills, night sweats, loss of
appetite, weight loss, and fatigue. Significant nail clubbing may also
If a tuberculosis infection does become active, it most commonly
involves the lungs (in about 90% of cases). Symptoms may include chest
pain and a prolonged cough producing sputum. About 25% of people may not
have any symptoms (i.e. they remain "asymptomatic"). Occasionally, people
may cough up blood in small amounts, and in very rare cases, the infection
may erode into the pulmonary artery or a Rasmussen's aneurysm, resulting
in massive bleeding. Tuberculosis may become a chronic illness and cause
extensive scarring in the upper lobes of the lungs. The upper lung lobes
are more frequently affected by tuberculosis than the lower ones. The
reason for this difference is not clear. It may be due to either better
air flow, or poor lymph drainage within the upper lungs.
In 15–20% of active cases, the infection spreads outside the lungs,
causing other kinds of TB. These are collectively denoted as "extrapulmonary
tuberculosis". Extrapulmonary TB occurs more commonly in
immunosuppressed persons and young children. In those with HIV, this
occurs in more than 50% of cases. Notable extrapulmonary infection sites
include the pleura (in tuberculous pleurisy), the central nervous system
(in tuberculous meningitis), the lymphatic system (in scrofula of the
neck), the genitourinary system (in urogenital tuberculosis), and the
bones and joints (in Pott disease of the spine), among others. Spread to
lymph nodes is the most common. An ulcer originating from nearby infected
lymph nodes may occur and is painless, slowly enlarging and has an
appearance of "wash leather". When it spreads to the bones, it is known as
"osseous tuberculosis", a form of osteomyelitis. A potentially more
serious, widespread form of TB is called "disseminated tuberculosis", also
known as miliary tuberculosis. Miliary TB currently makes up about 10% of
Using histological stains on expectorated samples from phlegm (also called
"sputum"), scientists can identify MTB under a microscope. Since MTB
retains certain stains even after being treated with acidic solution, it
is classified as an acid-fast bacillus. The most common acid-fast staining
techniques are the Ziehl–Neelsen stain and the Kinyoun stain, which
dye acid-fast bacilli a bright red that stands out against a blue
background. Auramine-rhodamine staining and fluorescence microscopy are
The M. tuberculosis complex (MTBC) includes four other TB-causing
mycobacteria: M. bovis, M. africanum, M. canetti, and M. microti. M.
africanum is not widespread, but it is a significant cause of tuberculosis
in parts of Africa. M. bovis was once a common cause of tuberculosis, but
the introduction of pasteurized milk has almost completely eliminated this
as a public health problem in developed countries. M. canetti is rare and
seems to be limited to the Horn of Africa, although a few cases have been
seen in African emigrants. M. microti is also rare and is seen almost only
in immunodeficient people, although its prevalence may be significantly
Other known pathogenic mycobacteria include M. leprae, M. avium, and M.
kansasii. The latter two species are classified as "nontuberculous
mycobacteria" (NTM). NTM cause neither TB nor leprosy, but they do cause
pulmonary diseases that resemble TB.
Main article: Risk factors for tuberculosis
A number of factors make people more susceptible to TB infections. The
most important risk factor globally is HIV; 13% of all people with TB are
infected by the virus. This is a particular problem in sub-Saharan Africa,
where rates of HIV are high. Of people without HIV who are infected with
tuberculosis, about 5–10% develop active disease during their lifetimes;
in contrast, 30% of those coinfected with HIV develop the active disease.
Tuberculosis is closely linked to both overcrowding and malnutrition,
making it one of the principal diseases of poverty. Those at high risk
thus include: people who inject illicit drugs, inhabitants and employees
of locales where vulnerable people gather (e.g. prisons and homeless
shelters), medically underprivileged and resource-poor communities,
high-risk ethnic minorities, children in close contact with high-risk
category patients, and health-care providers serving these patients.
Chronic lung disease is another significant risk factor. Silicosis
increases the risk about 30-fold. Those who smoke cigarettes have nearly
twice the risk of TB compared to nonsmokers.
Other disease states can also increase the risk of developing
tuberculosis. These include alcoholism and diabetes mellitus (three-fold
Certain medications, such as corticosteroids and infliximab (an anti-αTNF
monoclonal antibody), are becoming increasingly important risk factors,
especially in the developed world.
Genetic susceptibility also exists, for which the overall importance
Public health campaigns in the 1920s tried to halt the spread of TB.
When people with active pulmonary TB cough, sneeze, speak, sing, or spit,
they expel infectious aerosol droplets 0.5 to 5.0 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
small (the inhalation of fewer than 10 bacteria may cause an infection).
People with prolonged, frequent, or close contact with people with TB are
at particularly high risk of becoming infected, with an estimated 22%
infection rate. A person with active but untreated tuberculosis may infect
10–15 (or more) other people per year. Transmission should occur from only
people with active TB – those with latent infection are not thought to be
contagious. The probability of transmission from one person to another
depends upon several factors, including the number of infectious droplets
expelled by the carrier, the effectiveness of ventilation, the duration of
exposure, the virulence of the M. tuberculosis strain, the level of
immunity in the uninfected person, and others. The cascade of
person-to-person spread can be circumvented by segregating those with
active ("overt") TB and putting them on anti-TB drug regimens. After about
two weeks of effective treatment, subjects with nonresistant active
infections generally do not remain contagious to others. If someone does
become infected, it typically takes three to four weeks before the newly
infected person becomes infectious enough to transmit the disease to
Microscopy of tuberculous epididymitis. H&E stain
About 90% of those infected with M. tuberculosis have asymptomatic, latent
TB infections (sometimes called LTBI), with only a 10% lifetime chance
that the latent infection will progress to overt, active tuberculous
disease. In those with HIV, the risk of developing active TB increases to
nearly 10% a year. If effective treatment is not given, the death rate for
active TB cases is up to 66%.
TB infection begins when the mycobacteria reach the pulmonary alveoli,
where they invade and replicate within endosomes of alveolar macrophages.
Macrophages identify the bacterium as foreign and attempt to eliminate it
by phagocytosis. During this process, the bacterium is enveloped by the
macrophage and stored temporarily in a membrane-bound vesicle called a
phagosome. The phagosome then combines with a lysosome to create a
phagolysosome. In the phagolysosome, the cell attempts to use reactive
oxygen species and acid to kill the bacterium. However, M. tuberculosis
has a thick, waxy mycolic acid capsule that protects it from these toxic
substances. M. tuberculosis is able to reproduce inside the macrophage and
will eventually kill the immune cell.
The primary site of infection in the lungs, known as the "Ghon focus", is
generally located in either the upper part of the lower lobe, or the lower
part of the upper lobe. Tuberculosis of the lungs may also occur via
infection from the blood stream. This is known as a Simon focus and is
typically found in the top of the lung. This hematogenous transmission can
also spread infection to more distant sites, such as peripheral lymph
nodes, the kidneys, the brain, and the bones. All parts of the body can be
affected by the disease, though for unknown reasons it rarely affects the
heart, skeletal muscles, pancreas, or thyroid.
Robert Carswell's illustration of tubercle
Tuberculosis is classified as one of the granulomatous inflammatory
diseases. Macrophages, T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, and fibroblasts
aggregate to form granulomas, with lymphocytes surrounding the infected
macrophages. When other macrophages attack the infected macrophage, they
fuse together to form a giant multinucleated cell in the alveolar lumen.
The granuloma may prevent dissemination of the mycobacteria and provide a
local environment for interaction of cells of the immune system.
However, more recent evidence suggests that the bacteria use the
granulomas to avoid destruction by the host's immune system. Macrophages
and dendritic cells in the granulomas are unable to present antigen to
lymphocytes; thus the immune response is suppressed. Bacteria inside
the granuloma can become dormant, resulting in latent infection. Another
feature of the granulomas is the development of abnormal cell death
(necrosis) in the center of tubercles. To the naked eye, this has the
texture of soft, white cheese and is termed caseous necrosis.
If TB bacteria gain entry to the blood stream from an area of damaged
tissue, they can spread throughout the body and set up many foci of
infection, all appearing as tiny, white tubercles in the tissues. This
severe form of TB disease, most common in young children and those with
HIV, is called miliary tuberculosis. People with this disseminated TB have
a high fatality rate even with treatment (about 30%).
In many people, the infection waxes and wanes. Tissue destruction and
necrosis are often balanced by healing and fibrosis. Affected tissue is
replaced by scarring and cavities filled with caseous 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, so can spread the infection. Treatment with appropriate
antibiotics kills bacteria and allows healing to take place. Upon cure,
affected areas are eventually replaced by scar tissue.
Diagnosing active tuberculosis based only on signs and symptoms is
difficult, as is diagnosing the disease in those who are immunosuppressed.
A diagnosis of TB should, however, be considered in those with signs of
lung disease or constitutional symptoms lasting longer than two weeks. A
chest X-ray and multiple sputum cultures for acid-fast bacilli are
typically part of the initial evaluation. Interferon-γ release assays
and tuberculin skin tests are of little use in the developing world.
Interferon gamma release assays (IGRA) have similar limitations in those
A definitive diagnosis of TB is made by identifying M. tuberculosis in a
clinical sample (e.g., sputum, pus, or a tissue biopsy). However, the
difficult culture process for this slow-growing organism can take two to
six weeks for blood or sputum culture. Thus, treatment is often begun
before cultures are confirmed.
Nucleic acid amplification tests and adenosine deaminase testing may allow
rapid diagnosis of TB. These tests, however, are not routinely
recommended, as they rarely alter how a person is treated. Blood tests to
detect antibodies are not specific or sensitive, so they are not
Main article: Latent tuberculosis
Mantoux tuberculin skin test
The Mantoux tuberculin skin test is often used to screen people at high
risk for TB. Those who have been previously immunized may have a
false-positive test result. The test may be falsely negative in those with
sarcoidosis, Hodgkin's lymphoma, malnutrition, and most notably, active
tuberculosis. Interferon gamma release assays, on a blood sample, are
recommended in those who are positive to the Mantoux test. These are not
affected by immunization or most environmental mycobacteria, so they
generate fewer false-positive results. However, they are affected by M.
szulgai, M. marinum, and M. kansasii. IGRAs may increase sensitivity when
used in addition to the skin test, but may be less sensitive than the skin
test when used alone.
tuberculosis) : scanning electron micrograph of M. tuberculosis
The main cause of TB is Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB), a small,
aerobic, nonmotile bacillus. The high lipid content of this pathogen
accounts for many of its unique clinical characteristics. It divides every
16 to 20 hours, which is an extremely slow rate compared with other
bacteria, which usually divide in less than an hour. Mycobacteria have an
outer membrane lipid bilayer. If a Gram stain is performed, MTB either
stains very weakly "Gram-positive" or does not retain dye as a result of
the high lipid and mycolic acid content of its cell wall. MTB 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 the laboratory.
Tuberculosis prevention and control efforts rely primarily on the
vaccination of infants and the detection and appropriate treatment of
active cases. The World Health Organization has achieved some success with
improved treatment regimens, and a small decrease in case numbers. The US
Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening people who
are at high risk for latent tuberculosis with either tuberculin skin tests
or interferon-gamma release assays.
Main articles: Tuberculosis vaccines and BCG vaccine
The only available vaccine as of 2011 is Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG).
In children it decreases the risk of getting the infection by 20% and the
risk of infection turning into disease by nearly 60%.
It is the most widely used vaccine worldwide, with more than 90% of all
children being vaccinated. The immunity it induces decreases after about
ten years. As tuberculosis is uncommon in most of Canada, the United
Kingdom, and the United States, BCG is administered to only those people
at high risk. Part of the reasoning against the use of the vaccine is that
it makes the tuberculin skin test falsely positive, reducing the test's
use in screening. A number of new vaccines are currently in
The World Health Organization declared TB a "global health emergency" in
1993, and in 2006, the Stop TB Partnership developed a Global Plan to Stop
Tuberculosis that aimed to save 14 million lives between its launch and
2015. A number of targets they set were not achieved by 2015, mostly due
to the increase in HIV-associated tuberculosis and the emergence of
multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis. A tuberculosis classification
system developed by the American Thoracic Society is used primarily in
public health programs.
Main article: Tuberculosis management
Treatment of TB uses antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Effective TB
treatment is difficult, due to the unusual structure and chemical
composition of the mycobacterial cell wall, which hinders the entry of
drugs and makes many antibiotics ineffective. The two antibiotics most
commonly used are isoniazid and rifampicin, and treatments can be
prolonged, taking several months. Latent TB treatment usually employs 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 also
treated to prevent them from progressing to active TB disease later in
life. Directly observed therapy, i.e., having a health care provider watch
the person take their medications, is recommended by the WHO in an effort
to reduce the number of people not appropriately taking antibiotics. The
evidence to support this practice over people simply taking their
medications independently is poor.[needs update] Methods to remind
people of the importance of treatment do, however, appear effective.
The recommended treatment of new-onset pulmonary tuberculosis, as of 2010,
is six months of a combination of antibiotics containing rifampicin,
isoniazid, pyrazinamide, and ethambutol for the first two months, and only
rifampicin and isoniazid for the last four months. Where resistance to
isoniazid is high, ethambutol may be added for the last four months as an
If tuberculosis recurs, testing to determine which antibiotics it is
sensitive to is important before determining treatment. If multiple
drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is detected, treatment with at least four
effective antibiotics for 18 to 24 months is recommended.
Primary resistance occurs when a person becomes infected with a resistant
strain of TB. A person with fully susceptible MTB may develop secondary
(acquired) resistance during therapy because of inadequate treatment, not
taking the prescribed regimen appropriately (lack of compliance), or using
low-quality medication. Drug-resistant TB is a serious public health issue
in many developing countries, as its treatment is longer and requires more
expensive drugs. MDR-TB is defined as resistance to the two most effective
first-line TB drugs: rifampicin and isoniazid. Extensively drug-resistant
TB is also resistant to three or more of the six classes of second-line
drugs. Totally drug-resistant TB is resistant to all currently used drugs.
It was first observed in 2003 in Italy, but not widely reported until
2012,[ and has also been found in Iran and India. Bedaquiline is
tentatively supported for use in multiple drug-resistant TB.
XDR-TB is a term sometimes used to define extensively resistant TB, and
constitutes one in ten cases of MDR-TB. Cases of XDR TB have been
identified in more than 90% of countries.
Progression from TB infection to overt TB disease occurs when the bacilli
overcome the immune system defenses and begin to multiply. In primary TB
disease (some 1–5% of cases), this occurs soon after the initial
infection. However, in the majority of cases, a latent infection occurs
with no obvious symptoms. These dormant bacilli produce active
tuberculosis in 5–10% of these latent cases, often many years after
The risk of reactivation increases with immunosuppression, such as that
caused by infection with HIV. In people coinfected with M. tuberculosis
and HIV, the risk of reactivation increases to 10% per year.Studies using
DNA fingerprinting of M. tuberculosis strains have shown reinfection
contributes more substantially to recurrent TB than previously thought,
with estimates that it might account for more than 50% of reactivated
cases in areas where TB is common. The chance of death from a case of
tuberculosis is about 4% as of 2008, down from 8% in 1995.