Tuberculosis (TB) is an air-borne infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is a globally widespread disease that claims many lives every year. Fortunately, the advances in tuberculosis treatment have made this disease completely curable. Tuberculosis treatment involves the use of antibiotics over a course of 6 to 9 months. The antibiotic regimen prescribed depends on whether the individual has contracted pulmonary or extrapulmonary TB and whether the infection is in its active or latent form.
Tuberculosis Treatment For Active Pulmonary TB
Here’s how the usual course of treatment proceeds for active pulmonary TB i.e. when the infection is restricted to your lungs.
The Initial High-Intensity Phase
Pyrazinamide and Ethambutol are given for the first 2 months during this phase. These help kill a large part of the infecting bacterial population in the body.
This is the next phase of treatment, during which Isoniazid and Rifampicin are given for 4 to 7 months. This is also known as the consolidation or the eradication phase as it enables the complete removal of the tuberculosis bacteria from your body.
The exact span of the medication depends on your overall health and the severity of the infection. In most cases, people are no longer infectious after 2 weeks of tuberculosis treatment. However, at this point any urge to stop taking medicines should be resisted. Even if you feel you have recovered completely, it is absolutely vital to adhere to the medication dosage and schedule exactly as prescribed by your physician, till you complete the whole course of antibiotics.
If you discontinue the prescribed antibiotics before you complete the course, or even skip a dose, there is a high chance that you will develop a rather dangerous version of the TB infection called Multi-Drug Resistant (MDR) – TB. In this type of TB, the causative bacteria become resistant to a wide variety of antibiotics. This is potentially serious, as the infection then becomes difficult to treat and the tuberculosis treatment will have to last for a longer duration of time.
Tuberculosis Treatment For Active Extra Pulmonary TB
Extrapulmonary TB involves infection in organs other than the lungs. The same combination of antibiotics as used in pulmonary TB may be here prescribed, but for a much longer period of time (around 12 months). In case the brain or the spine is involved, a batch of corticosteroids is also added to the regimen for a period of 4 to 6 weeks. Once again, it is essential to adhere to and complete the full course of antibiotics.
Tuberculosis Treatment For Latent TB
Latent TB Infection (LTBI) is a form of TB in which the infected person shows no symptoms of TB. In such a case, tuberculosis treatment is decided after going over the person’s risk factors for developing active TB. Among persons with LTBI, treatment is not recommended for people in the following categories:
- Those who are over 35 years of age
- Those who do not have HIV
- Those who are not health care workers
This is because the risk of liver damage increases with age and for some people, the risks of treatment outweigh the benefits.
The antibiotic Isoniazid is often prescribed to help prevent the dormant infection from becoming active. In most cases, treatment for latent TB involves taking a combination of Isoniazid and Rifampicin for three months. In some others, it is recommended that Isoniazid be taken on its own for six months. In addition to these options, a dose of vitamin B6 is given to prevent the side effects of Isoniazid.
Tuberculosis Treatment – The Side-Effects Of The Antibiotics Used
You should be aware of the adverse reactions that might be seen as a result of tuberculosis medication. These antibiotics can cause damage to the liver, so it’s essential that your liver function be tested before you undergo treatment. Ethambutol can damage your eyes and this makes it necessary for your vision to be tested prior to tuberculosis treatment.
If you begin to have any of the following symptoms after starting on an antibiotics course as part of tuberculosis treatment, see your doctor immediately.
- Yellowing of skin and darkening of urine
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or the feet
- Skin rashes or itchy skin
- Changes in vision, such as blurred vision
- Inexplicable fever
During tuberculosis treatment, it is important that you get adequate rest and eat a balanced diet to help your immune system fight the infection better. In any case, it is highly advisable to follow your doctor’s orders unerringly for effective results.