Treatment for TB depends on whether a person has TB disease or only TB infection.
A person who has become infected with TB, but does not have TB disease, may be given preventive therapy. Preventive therapy aims to kill germs that are not doing any damage right now, but could break out later.
If a doctor decides a person should have preventive therapy, the usual prescription is a daily dose of isoniazid (also called "INH"), an inexpensive TB medicine. The person takes INH for six months (up to a year for some patients), with periodic checkups to make sure the medicine is being taken as prescribed.
What if the person has TB disease? Then treatment is needed.
Years ago a patient with TB disease was placed in a special hospital for months, maybe even years, and would often have surgery. Today, TB can be treated with very effective drugs.
Often the patient will only have to stay a short time in the hospital and can then continue taking medication at home. Sometimes the patient will not have to stay in the hospital at all. After a few weeks a person can probably even return to normal activities and not have to worry about infecting others.
The patient usually gets a combination of several drugs (most frequently INH plus two to three others), usually for six to nine months. The patient will probably begin to feel better only a few weeks after starting to take the drugs.
It is very important, however, that the patient continue to take the medicine correctly for the full length of treatment. If the medicine is taken incorrectly or stopped the patient may become sick again and will be able to infect others with TB.
If the medicine is taken incorrectly and the patient becomes sick with TB a second time, the TB may be harder to treat because it has become drug resistant. This means that the TB germs in the body are unaffected by some drugs used to treat TB.
Multi-drug resistant TB is very dangerous, so patients should be sure that they take all of their medicine correctly.
Regular checkups are needed to see how treatment is progressing. Sometimes the drugs used to treat TB can cause side effects. It is important both for people undergoing preventive therapy and people being treated for TB disease to immediately let a doctor know if they begin having any unusual symptoms.
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