Tuberculosis or TB was very common in the U.S. before antibiotics were developed. At that time, it was called Consumption and was a major cause of death. It is still a common cause of death in developing countries. It is caused by the tiny, slow growing bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria lodges in the lungs and can become active immediately or wait months or years to emerge as an active infection. It is terminal if left untreated. Tuberculosis can attack many different parts of the body, but in developed countries, it is usually found in the lungs. For that reason only the pulmonary form of the disease will be discussed here.
Active infections of TB can come from a new exposure to the bacteria or from reactivation of the disease from an old exposure.
People with weak immune systems are more likely to have active TB. This would include the elderly, children, people with HIV/AIDS, people with diabetes, or anyone who has been "worn down" from lack of sleep or lack of proper nutrition.
The risk of Tuberculosis (TB), especially among children, increases with the following risk factors: having a family history of tuberculosis infection going back two to three generations; having traveled abroad or having been exposed to foreign visitors; having contact with HIV-infected persons; having contact with current or previous prison inmates; and living in high-risk areas.
When Dr. Thomas Addison first described this disease in London in 1855, the most common cause was tuberculosis. This remained the leading cause until the middle of the twentieth century when antibiotics progressively reduced TB's incidence. TB is nevertheless still a possible cause.
Tuberculosis (TB) is the classic cause of night sweats. Early on the immune system typically controls the infection and few if any symptoms develop. Then, later in life, the infection may reactivate, causing a chronic pneumonia with fever, night sweats, weight loss and cough. Sometimes the infection involves the lungs minimally, if at all. If you have had night sweats for more than a month or two without any other symptoms, tuberculosis would be less likely but not impossible.