What Is the Incubation Period for TB?

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Tuberculosis (TB) is a slow dividing bacteria, and therefore may stay dormant for years before developing into active TB. It's easy to treat with early detection and careful adherence to a medical regimen.

Infection

TB infection is caused by breathing in the mist coughed out by actively infected patients who are not being treated. Passively infected patients and those in the midst of treatment cannot spread the disease.

Incubation

The length of TB incubation varies depending on individual risk factors. Within six weeks of being exposed, an infected person develops a primary infection in the lungs, which may have no symptoms. The disease then enters a dormant phase that can last weeks to years.

Risk Factors

People with healthy immune systems can stay infected for years before developing an active TB infection. Those with compromised immune systems due to HIV or other conditions (bad nutrition, for example), the elderly and the very young may develop an active TB infection much sooner. In these cases, the body may not be able to contain TB to the lungs. TB may then affect bones and joints, internal organs and even the eyes and skin.

Symptoms

TB symptoms typically begin with a chronic cough with sputum lasting more than three weeks. Fever, fatigue, loss of appetite (often resulting in weight loss), sweating, malaise and shortness of breath can also occur. Because TB symptoms can be similar to those of other illnesses and lung diseases, only a doctor can make a positive diagnosis.

Tests and Treatment

A simple skin test can confirm the presence of the TB bacteria. Chest X-rays can confirm active infection, though a culture (four to twelve weeks) will give a definitive diagnosis. Treatment is typically six months of antibacterial medication taken every day.

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