What is Tuberculosis?

2017.03.24  4455

Although the incidence of tuberculosis has declined significantly compared to the past, Korea has been ranked first in the incidence of tuberculosis for the past 20 years, with 86 tuberculosis patients per 100,000 people in 2014, according to the 2015 TB report released by the World Health Organization. Let's learn how to prevent and treat tuberculosis, with a special emphasis on pulmonary tuberculosis.

What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria belonging to the mycobacterium tuberculosis complex. Mycobacterium tuberculosis mainly invades the lungs and causes pulmonary tuberculosis, but it can also invade other organs causing extrapulmonary infections.

Symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis

Early tuberculosis is often asymptomatic, and various symptoms may develop over time. The most common symptom is coughing, which can be accompanied by systemic symptoms such as fever, weight loss, night sweats, and loss of appetite. Therefore, you should go to a hospital and take a tuberculosis test if respiratory symptoms mentioned above persist for 2 to 3 weeks without any obvious cause, even though you may think it is a mild respiratory illness such as a cold.

Extrapulmonary tuberculosis

Tuberculosis occurs most commonly in the lungs, but it can cause a variety of symptoms by invading other organs such as the kidney, brain, spine, and lymph nodes. For example, dysuria, hematuria, and flank pain may occur in urinary tract tuberculosis, back pain in spinal tuberculosis, and headaches and vomiting in tuberculous meningitis.

How is tuberculosis transmitted?

The transmission of mycobacterium tuberculosis mainly occurs when the droplet nuclei (microbe droplets containing mycobacterium tuberculosis) released from a patient afflicted with infectious pulmonary tuberculosis is inhaled into the respiratory tract of another person through the air. However, not all people in the same room with infectious pulmonary tuberculosis are infected because tuberculosis infection depends on the degree and duration of contact and the infectivity of the patient. In addition, tuberculosis is not transmitted through dishes, clothing, bedding, books, or food.

What should I do if I become exposed to tuberculosis bacteria?

If family members, friends, or co-workers that you have close contact with have been diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, you should visit the nearest public health center or medical institution to check for active or latent tuberculosis.

Treatment of tuberculosis

In most cases, the infectivity of tuberculosis is almost gone after two weeks of medication, and it is completely cured for about 6 months of medication.

The importance of prevention in tuberculosis

The most basic tuberculosis prevention is to detect and isolate patients with infectious tuberculosis in an early stage, so that patients can recover from the illness with proper care. Additional methods include BCG vaccination and treatment for latent tuberculosis.

How to manage latent tuberculosis

As well as those who have come into contact with infectious tuberculosis patients, the following high-risk patients should seek proper tuberculosis treatment when they are diagnosed with latent tuberculosis:

High-risk patients for TB

  • Person with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus);
  • Person who takes or will be taking immunosuppressive drugs for organ transplantation;
  • Person who is or will be using TNF (Tumor Necrosis Factor) antagonists; and
  • Person who has been diagnosed with tuberculosis in the last 2 years (if tuberculin positive conversion is confirmed)

With early diagnosis and proper treatment, pulmonary tuberculosis can be cured and transmission prevented. If you are suspected to have tuberculosis symptoms or have come into close contact with infectious tuberculosis patients, visit a medical institution immediately.



Patients' Rights and Responsibilities

Patients' Rights

1. Right to receive medical care

Patients have the right to receive proper medical and nursing services for their Health Protection and Promotion and they will not be discriminated for gender, age, religion, status, nationality, language, race, or physical/mental/financial circumstances nor be violated of their health. Medical team may not deny medical care without justifiable reason.

2. Right to be informed & autonomous decision

Patients have the right to receive be well-informed and to inquire in detail about the treating physician’s specialty, status of their disease, purpose of the treatment, treatment plan, method, expected results and side effects of the treatment, discharge plan, medical cost, whether or not they are a subject to medical research, organ transplant/donation and etc, and to decide whether to give consent. Patients may stop or deny specific treatment or planned medical care within the ethical guideline and may decide on an alternative treatment.

3. Right to have confidentiality

Patients will not be violated of their rights to confidentiality regarding their physical/health status and privacy. Medical team and facility may not reveal or announce patient’s confidential information, including personal information, unless patient has gives consent or specified in the law, such as criminal investigation.

4. Right to request for consultation and mediation

Patients may request for consultation and mediation from an internal or external agency (Korea Consumer Agency, Korea Medical Dispute Mediation and Arbitration Agency) in the event of any medical dispute.

5. Right to be respected of values or beliefs

Patients will not be discriminated for their culture, religious values or beliefs, and their rights will not be violated.

6. Right to be physically protected and to have stability of mind and bod

Patients have the right to be protected from possible danger in the hospital and to have the stability of mind and body.


1. Responsible to trust and respect the medical team

Patients must accurately inform the medical team of their health condition, trust and respect the medical team’s treatment plan. Patients may be responsible for consequences which results from not following the instruction.

2. Responsible to not use dishonest method for medical treatment

Patients must reveal their identity before receiving any medical care and must not use false or dishonest method, such as receiving medical case under disguised ownership.

3. Responsible to abide by all hospital regulations

Patients must abide by all hospital regulations, respect hospital staff and other patients, and earnestly fulfill the financial obligation to the hospital.