Pulmonary tuberculosis is TB that affects the lungs. Its initial symptoms are easily confused with those of other diseases. An infected person may at first feel vaguely unwell or develop a cough blamed on smoking or a cold. A small amount of light green or yellow sputum may be coughed up when the person gets up in the morning. In time, more sputum is produced that is streaked with blood. Persons with pulmonary TB do not run a high fever, but they often have a low-grade one. They may wake up in the night drenched with cold sweat when the fever breaks. A person often loses interest in food and may lose weight. Chest pain is sometimes present. If the infection allows air to escape from the lungs into the chest cavity (pneumothorax) or if fluid collects in the pleural space (pleural effusion), an affected person may have difficulty breathing. If a young adult develops a pleural effusion, the probability of tubercular infection being the cause is very high. TB bacilli may travel from the lungs to lymph nodes in the sides and back of the neck. Infection in these areas can break through the skin and discharge pus. Before the development of effective antibiotics, many patients became chronically ill with increasingly severe lung symptoms, lost a great deal of weight, and developed a wasted appearance. This out-come is uncommon today—at least where modern methods of treatment are available.
L. Fleming Fallon Jr., MD, PhD, DrPH, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,