Antibiotics are used to treat TB, since it's a bacterial infection. You may be hospitalized or told to avoid contact with other people until tests show that you're not contagious.
For TB lung infections, 3 or 4 antibiotics are combined for the first 2 months of therapy. 2 of these are then taken for another 4 to 7 months, depending on the number and type of antibiotics used as well as the sensitivity pattern of the TB bacteria that were cultured from the individual. Some people may need to take antibiotics for up to 12 months.
The antibiotics most commonly used include isoniazid, rifampin, pyrazinamide, and ethambutol. Most people will take medications every day for the first 2 months, then a few times a week for the remaining treatment. It's important to take your medication as instructed by your doctor, and for the full course of the treatment. This helps to ward off types of TB bacteria that are antibiotic-resistant, which take longer and are more difficult to treat.
If a particular type of TB infection is resistant to regular antibiotic treatment (a condition known as multidrug resistant TB or MDRTB), a combination of different medications must be taken for 18 to 24 months.
Once symptoms clear up, a doctor may re-test your sputum to see if the TB bacteria are still present. If you have a TB infection in other parts of your body (e.g., bones or joints), you may require treatment for more than one year. If you are taking isoniazid, you doctor may suggest that you take 50 mg of pyridoxine (vitamin B6) daily to prevent a side effect called peripheral neuropathy.
To prevent spreading TB, it's important to get treatment quickly and to follow it through to completion. This can stop transmission of the bacteria and the appearance of antibiotic-resistant strains.
A vaccine is available to limit the spread of bacteria after TB infection. The vaccine is generally used in countries or communities where the risk of TB infection is greater than 1% each year. It is used in newborns in these communities to prevent TB and its complications in the first few years of life. In Canada, there's controversy over the use of this vaccine because it doesn't prevent the initial infection.
If a positive skin test is detected and other tests have confirmed that active TB is not present, your doctor may choose to prescribe a medication that prevents a TB infection from progressing to the active disease. The antibiotic most commonly used is isoniazid, which is usually taken daily for 9 months. Other medications that may be used include rifampin or a combination of isoniazid and rifampin.
It is important to take your medications for as long as your doctor recommends. If you stop taking your medications before your doctor suggests, the TB infection can recur, you could get active TB, or the TB bacteria may become resistant to the medications you are taking.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
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