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HIV and tuberculosis (TB) are conditions that can often coexist. An estimated 11.4 million people worldwide are infected with both TB and HIV. One of the first signs that a person is infected with HIV may be that he or she suddenly develops tuberculosis. Diagnosing tuberculosis in people with HIV infection is often difficult. They may not react to the standard TB skin test because their immune system does not work properly.

An Introduction to HIV and Tuberculosis

The World Health Organization estimates that 11.4 million people worldwide are infected with both tuberculosis (TB) bacteria and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS [acquired immunodeficiency syndrome]). The primary cause of death in those infected with these microbes is from tuberculosis, not AIDS. In the United States, health experts estimate that about two out of ten people who have tuberculosis are also infected with HIV.
One of the first signs that a person is infected with HIV may be that he or she suddenly develops TB. This form of TB often occurs in areas outside the lungs, particularly when the person is in the later stages of AIDS.
It is much more likely for people infected with tuberculosis and HIV to develop active tuberculosis than it is for someone who is only infected with tuberculosis. Fortunately, TB can be prevented and cured, even in people with HIV infection.

Understanding HIV, TB, and the Immune System

A person can have latent tuberculosis for years. If that person's immune system gets weak, however, the infection can quickly turn into active tuberculosis. Also, if a person who has a weak immune system spends time with someone with active tuberculosis, he or she may become infected with TB bacteria and quickly develop active tuberculosis.
Because HIV infection weakens the immune system, people with latent tuberculosis and HIV infection are at very high risk of developing active tuberculosis. All people with HIV infection should be tested to find out if they have latent tuberculosis. If they have latent tuberculosis, they need treatment as soon as possible to prevent them from developing active TB. If they have active tuberculosis, they must take medicine to cure tuberculosis.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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