Tuberculosis (TB) is a potentially serious infectious disease that primarily affects the lungs. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis are spread from person to person through tiny droplets released into the air via coughs and sneezes. However, not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. As a result, two TB-related conditions exist: latent TB infection and TB disease.
Latent TB infection is a state where the bacteria remain in the body in an inactive state. They cause no symptoms and are not contagious, but they can become active. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a person with latent tuberculosis infection requires three to nine months of treatment to prevent the potential progression to active disease. Without treatment, 5 to 10 percent of infected people will develop active tuberculosis, or tuberculosis disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Active TB disease, on the other hand, is a condition where the bacteria are active and multiply, leading to symptoms that may be severe. People with the disease are infectious, can transmit the disease to others, and can die if not treated. If tuberculosis becomes active, it is “a threat to both the individual's and the public's health,” according to Ms. Miranda-Maese.
The transition from latent to active TB can occur when the immune system becomes weakened, such as in cases of malnutrition, HIV infection, or other severe illnesses. This underscores the importance of early detection and treatment of latent TB, particularly in vulnerable populations.
In conclusion, understanding and addressing latent tuberculosis is a critical aspect of public health. It requires a comprehensive approach that includes education, early detection, and effective treatment strategies. As we continue to grapple with global health challenges, tackling silent threats like latent TB remains a priority.