Tuberculosis or TB is a contagious bacterial infection that primarily attacks the lungs or throat but can spread to other parts of the body such as the brain and spine. This is caused by a type of bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis in the throat or lungs can prove fatal if not treated in time. In fact, in earlier days, tuberculosis was one of the most common causes of death worldwide.
A person infected with tuberculosis might not necessarily fall sick because tuberculosis is also of two different forms explained below:
Latent Tuberculosis: In this form of TB, the bacteria are present in the body – usually the lungs or throat – but do not spread to other body parts, instead lie dormant. This implies that the person does not feel any symptoms and is not contagious. However, since the infection is living in the body, there are high chances it can become active and triggered by cases with a weak immune system such as:
Active Tuberculosis: In this form of TB, the germs affect the lungs and throat, multiply and increase to spread to other body parts and make a person sick. Most active TB cases are the results of latent TB.
Tuberculosis mainly attacks the lungs and throat. In the case of latent TB, there will no symptoms since the infection is dormant but it can be diagnosed through a blood test. On the other hand, active TB will have some of the below symptoms:
A person infected with tuberculosis might display some or all of these symptoms depending on the severity of the infection. Also, if the infection has spread to any other organ in the body, the symptoms will differ and will depend on the concerned organ, such as if tuberculosis has spread to the spine, a person will experience severe backache and case, and the infection has affected the kidneys, the person might find blood in the urine. These symptoms may arise individually or in combination with the above general symptoms.
Despite the infection being very contagious, tuberculosis does not thrive on surfaces and hence, cannot spread through simple activities such as shaking hands or sharing food with an infected person. The virus will only spread to another being if he/she is in close contact with the infected person for a long period. In that respect, some people who become more prone to being infected with the virus are:
Also, people with a weakened or compromised immune system are more prone to being infected with the virus.
Like any other form of tuberculosis, TB in the throat can also be diagnosed by two tests that include:
Skin Test: Also known as Mantoux tuberculin skin test, this procedure involves injecting a specific fluid into the skin of the lower arm; post 2-3 days, this area is analyzed for any swelling to assess the presence of TB bacteria.
Blood Test: These are specific blood tests called interferon-gamma release assays or IGRAs, which determine the presence of TB by mixing TB protein with some blood.
If the tests result positive, the doctor will perform an X-Ray of the chest and throat or a CT scan to assess for changes in the lungs and the presence of TB bacteria.
Treatment of tuberculosis in the throat is similar to treatment of any other form of tuberculosis and depends on the type of TB – active or latent.
Tuberculosis is easily preventable in both cases – where a person has no infection or has a latent TB infection. Some easy steps to prevent TB in any form, including the throat, are:
Tuberculosis of any form including the throat can be easily prevented and treated provided timely medical care is received. In cases that fail to receive effective and timely treatment, tuberculosis can be life-threatening. Consult your doctor in case of severe symptoms.