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Active tuberculosis going dormant?



If you had active tuberculosis is it possible for the disease to then go dormant and become active a second time later in life?


Most people who inhale the tuberculosis bacteria the first time do not have symptoms, and as a result of the body's immune response, most but not all of the bacteria are killed (latent tuberculosis). A person can then develop a "relapse" with active tuberculosis (symptoms like cough, fever, weight loss) later in life, mostly within 24 months of inhaling the bacteria.

If a sick patient with active tuberculosis is treated appropriately, the cure rate is 95%. Thus, 5% of people can have a relapse. Most relapse occurs within the first 12 months after completing tuberculosis treatment, and this is usually due to not killing off all of the tuberculosis bacteria. However, in areas where there is a lot of tuberculosis, one may come in contact with someone new with active tuberculosis due to another strain of the bacteria, breathe in the tuberculosis bacteria, and develop active tuberculosis again. This is not common.

Tuberculosis can spread from the lung to other parts of body. Symptoms of active tuberculosis depend on where the bacteria are. For tuberculosis of the lung, the patient may have symptoms of cough, fever, chills, night sweats, weight loss or an abnormal chest X-ray. In addition, his/her sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lung) may grow tuberculosis again.

Anyone with previous diagnosis of active or latent tuberculosis infection should see a doctor as soon as possible if they suspect relapse of tuberculosis.

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Response by:

Shu-Hua   Wang, MD, MPH&TM Shu-Hua Wang, MD, MPH&TM
Clinical Assistant Professor of Infectious Diseases
Clinical Assistant Professor of The Division of Epidemiology
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

Larry S Schlesinger, MD Larry S Schlesinger, MD
Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics
Microbiology Administration
Environmental Health Sciences
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University