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What Happens to Your Body When You Get Tuberculosis

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Tuberculosis, also known as TB, is a worldwide problem that kills roughly one million people every year. At some point in your life, you've probably been checked for tuberculosis symptoms, or at least been given that test where they put a bubble of fluid under your skin. Hopefully, you've been lucky enough never to get it. Still, considering this disease isn't that common in western countries, you might be wondering as to what tuberculosis is like when you have it. While we don't recommend you try to find out, we're happy to satisfy your curiosity. 

Although TB usually shows up in poorer nations with bad sanitation conditions and little medical funding, anyone can get it. You might even carry the disease with little to no symptoms, and never even know you have it.

Unfortunately, most people do have symptoms, and they're hardly the mild kind. So, rather than find out for yourself what having tuberculosis feels like, let's look at the signs and symptoms that might hit you should you become infected.

  • You Can Get It With a Single Breath

    Photo: ezequielzvik / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    You may wonder how people contract tuberculosis (TB). Well, you can get it with one breath. TB is an airborne bacterial infection that you can get when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or breathes heavily in your vicinity. Children run the most risk of breathing in the bacteria, though any person of any age can contract it. Most people who contract TB do so because of extended contact with an infected person, which makes it hard for healthy adults to pick up the bug. The other good news is that it's not common in the United states, but if you travel, you might want to bring a breathing mask with you, just in case. 

  • Bacteria Will Infect Your Lungs and Blood

    Photo: Albaraa Mehdar / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Once you inhale tuberculosis bacteria, it travels to your lungs. Here you will either develop latent TB, which does not cause sickness and basically just lays dormant. Or you will contract the full disease. When people talk about TB, they usually mean this second type, which has plenty of symptoms.

    When the bacteria infects your body, it multiplies in your lungs and bloodstream almost immediately. If your immune system cannot control the growth and spread, you end up with TB. This can take a few weeks in some cases, or multiple years for others. It all depends on when the immune system can no longer handle the growth of the bacteria.

  • You'll Have a Cough That Won't Quit

    Photo: Taken / Pixabay / CC0 1.0

    Most people with TB exhibit the most classic symptom: coughing. We all cough now and then, sure, and we might cough more often when we're sick with the flu. People suffering from TB develop persistent coughing that will not go away, no matter how they try to fix it. You might want to visit a doctor for a tuberculosis test if you have a persistent cough for three weeks or more.

  • You'll Feel Tired All the Time

    Photo: Internet Archive Book Images / flickr / No known copyright restrictions

    People who develop TB may also feel very fatigued. If you have trouble performing basic daily tasks, you might want to worry a bit. Constant fatigue like this can easily be attributed to other illnesses or environmental factors, but it's also a classic symptom of TB. Some people with TB seem perfectly healthy, but might feel just a little tired. People with other health problems will most likely feel quite tired, though.