Tuberculosis (TB) primarily affects the lungs. The bacterial infection is transmitted by Mycobacterium tuberculosis and can be spread through the air. TB was once a predominant cause of death around the world. During the 20th century, developments in medications and the quarantine of TB patients helped virtually eradicate the illness from the Western world. Cases continue to decrease each year; in 2017, about 9,000 people were diagnosed with the condition. Today, generally only those with compromised immune systems contract tuberculosis. People who work or live in long-term care centers, prisons, or healthcare facilities are at increased risk. Individuals who inject illegal drugs, and those who migrated from countries where the disease is prevalent, are also at higher risk.
A persistent cough is one of the best-known symptoms of tuberculosis, but it is not exclusive to this condition. A cough that lasts longer than three weeks needs evaluation to rule out tuberculosis. TB usually produces a productive cough, which means the action causes an expectoration of phlegm containing the TB bacteria. A lab can test the phlegm to determine whether it contains the organism.
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