Christmas brings family gatherings, shopping and the Lung Association’s Christmas Seal campaign.  While the lung association supports a wide range of lung conditions via their December drive, its roots focused on funding for a disease that was rampant in the early part of the 20th century- Tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis (TB) is infection caused by a germ called Mycobacterium tuberculosis.  While we often think of TB’s effects on the lungs, it can also affect other parts of the body such as the brain, kidneys or spine.  There are two types of TB: Latent or inactive where a person is infected with TB but the bacteria remain in an inactive state and the person shows no symptoms; and Active TB where symptoms are present and a person can infect others.    Latent TB can turn into the Active TB, so it is still important to treat it.

Symptoms of Active TB can be seen weeks after being infected or even years later. These symptoms include: coughing that lasts three or more weeks; coughing up blood; chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing; unintentional weight loss; fatigue; fever; night sweats; chills; or loss of appetite.  If TB is found in other parts of the body, then those organs can also be affected – for example TB in the kidneys may lead to blood in the urine.

TB is spread from droplets in the air usually when someone with Active TB coughs or sneezes.  A person who receives appropriate antibiotics for two weeks or more is no longer contagious.  Similarly you cannot be infected by someone with Latent TB.

A skin test is the first tool to diagnose TB. The test involves injecting a small amount of TB protein under the skin.  The site is examined 48 to 72 hours later and a positive test indicates that at some point you have been exposed to TB.  If this test is positive, you will likely be sent for a blood test and an x-ray.  A sputum test may also be used for diagnosis and to determine which antibiotics would be most effective.

Treatment for TB usually involves between 2 to 4 antibiotics and lasts for 6 to 9 months.  The types of medications and length of treatment depends on risk factors and sensitivity of the bacteria to the antibiotics.

So when you send those Christmas Seals, you support all the good work that the Lung Association does and now you know where the campaign originated. Take care of yourselves and each other.