Tuberculosis is a chronic infection involving usually the lungs but also may involve other organs. About one fourth of newly discovered cases each year occur in elderly patients. Some of these are new infections, but many are recurrences of past infections. New, effective methods of treatment are available and have changed the management of tuberculosis.
For many elderly, the disease is a reactivation of an infection acquired decades before when tuberculosis was a much more common problem. The bacteria remain alive but dormant and can break out to cause new disease when the body’s resistance falls. Many other diseases and some treatments of other diseases can cause this impairment of resistance that allows infection to become active. Steroid hormones and anticancer drugs are examples of the kinds of treatments associated with impaired resistance.
The days of prolonged hospitalization in a sanatorium with enforced rest and mutilating operations are gone. An arsenal of new drugs used in outpatient therapy has replaced this older therapy. However, tuberculosis remains a chronic disease, slow in onset and slow to heal, even with the newer drugs. Treatment takes 6 months or longer.
Important Points in Treatment
In the past, sanatorium treatment started with a prolonged period of isolation. This was to prevent the spread of the tubercular bacillus to others by way of bacteria coughed up from the lungs. With the coming of antitubercular drugs, this possible infectious interval is much shorter. Nonetheless, patients with pulmonary tuberculosis should be careful when disposing of paper tissues containing coughed-up secretions. Your physician will advise you when the infectious period is past.