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Tuberculosis (TB) Treatment

With appropriate antibiotic treatment, TB can be cured in most people. Successful treatment of TB depends on close cooperation between patients and healthcare providers. Treatment usually involves taking several antibiotic drugs for at least 6 months and sometimes for as long as 12 months.

Antibiotic Resistance and the Importance of Finishing the TB Medicine

People who do not take all the required medicines can become sick again and spread TB to others. Additionally, when people do not take all the prescribed medicines or skip times when they are supposed to take them, the TB bacteria evolve to outwit the TB antibiotics. Soon those medicines no longer work against the disease. If this happens, the person now has drug-resistant TB. Additionally, some people with TB do not get better with treatment because their disease is caused by a strain of the TB bacterium that is already resistant to one or more of the standard TB drugs.

Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB) is TB that is resistant to at least two of the best Food and Drug Administration-approved anti-TB drugs, isoniazid and rifampicin. These antibiotics are considered first-line drugs and are the first medicines used to treat all persons with TB disease. Extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR TB) is a relatively rare type of TB that is resistant to isoniazid and rifampin, plus any fluoroquinolone and at least one of three injectable second-line drugs (such as amikacin, kanamycin, or capreomycin). Worldwide, TB drug resistance is on the rise. In 2010, the World Health Organization estimated that more than 650,000 people have MDR TB.

Treatment for Drug Resistant TB

Treatment for drug-resistant TB often requires the use of special TB drugs, all of which can produce serious side effects. People with MDR TB may have to take several antibiotics, at least three to which the bacteria still respond, every day for up to two years. Even with this treatment, however, between 4 and 6 out of 10 patients with MDR TB will die, which is the same rate seen with TB patients who are not treated. Because XDR TB is resistant to first-line and second-line drugs, patients are left with limited treatment options that are much less effective.

For more information on drug-resistant tuberculosis, please see the Drug-Resistant TB Visual Tour.

Infection Control

Hospitals and clinics take precautions to prevent the spread of TB, which include identifying patients with suspected TB and using ultraviolet light to sterilize the air, special filters, and special respirators and masks. In hospitals, people with TB are isolated in special rooms with controlled ventilation and airflow until they can no longer spread TB bacteria. By having an infection control plan in place, healthcare settings can ensure the prompt detection and treatment of persons who have suspected or confirmed TB disease.

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Last Updated March 19, 2012