A Look At TB And Its Symptoms

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A daycare worker at John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix may have infected nearly 150 children and staffers with tuberculosis, a contagious but highly treatable disease.

The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm spoke with Dr. Doug Campos-Outcalt, medical director of the Maricopa County public health department, about the possible outbreak and the treatment of it.

The children range in age from 2 to 5 years and will be given tuberculosis skin tests to determine whether they have been infected. Those who test positive will be given chest X-rays to determine whether they have active or latent infection. Antibiotics will be given for free for six months to those with active disease, but even those with so-called latent signs of TB will be encouraged to take antibiotics.

Dr. Campos-Outcalt points out, "The majority of these children will not be infected, but it's our job to find those who have been infected and make sure they get the treatment they need."

Many of the children who attend the center are sons and daughters of doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel. But some are from the general public. The hospital also runs a federal HeadStart program for pre-kindergarten-age children. The exposure dates back to March for the HeadStart classes and June for the daycare classes.

Dr. Campos-Outcalt says, "There are two forms of infection that could possibly occur. Most people who are infected with tuberculosis get what we call a silent infection, meaning the bacteria is in the body, but not causing disease. A few will get active disease. We can detect which of the cases it is. We have antibiotics that we can treat either form of the disease with. So we will be finding those who are infected and giving them treatment."

The following are symptoms to look out for: For people who develop active TB disease in the lungs, the most common type of TB disease in the United States, symptoms usually begin gradually and develop over a period of weeks or months.

Symptoms may include:

  • Coughing up thick, cloudy, and sometimes bloody mucus (sputum) from the lungs for more than 2 weeks
  • Fever and chills
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain that may be worse when inhaling
  • Rapid pulse
  • Muscle weakness

Dr. Campos-Outcalt says, "We have in this country about 15,000 cases a year - 400 to 500 in children under the age of 5. It's not that common a disease any more." And notes, "Public health departments around the country are still involved and controlling TB mainly by finding those who have it and treating it. With treatment, you become noninfectious."

Children rarely are infected and are poor at transmitting it to others. Individuals who have latent infection but don't develop an active form of the disease face a 10 percent risk of developing active tuberculosis in their lifetime, he added. That's why doctors recommend those who test positive for even the latent form of the disease take antibiotics for six months, after which the risk drops to 1 percent.

Tuberculosis was the No. 1 cause of death at the turn of century. A vaccine is available, but it is controversial and not used in the United States. Left untreated, tuberculosis can affect growth, lead to meningitis and be fatal.