Tuberculosis (TB), a chronic infection, is spread through the air from one person to another. It is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a bacterium that usually attacks the lungs but may also infect any part of the body, such as the kidneys, spine, and brain. Most people who are infected with this bacterium do not have symptoms (known as latent tuberculosis), but about 1 in 10 of these people may eventually develop active tuberculosis, which can cause symptoms such as chest pain or a long-lasting cough. If left untreated, this type of tuberculosis can be fatal.
To diagnose tuberculosis, your healthcare provider may perform certain tests to gather information on your particular situation, including a blood test, skin test, or chest x-ray. Treatment involves taking several different antibiotics for at least six months, and in some cases, up to several years.
(To learn more about this disease, including what you can do to help prevent it, click Tuberculosis.)