tuberculosis (TB), contagious, wasting disease caused by any of several mycobacteria. The most common form of the disease is tuberculosis of the lungs (pulmonary consumption, or phthisis), but the intestines, bones and joints, the skin, and the genitourinary, lymphatic, and nervous systems may also be affected.

There are three major types of tubercle bacilli that affect humans. The human type (Mycobacterium tuberculosis), first identified in 1882 by Robert Koch, is spread by people themselves. It is the most common one. The bovine type (M. bovis) is spread by infected cattle but is no longer a threat in areas where pasteurization of milk and the health of cattle are strictly supervised. The avian type (M. avis) is carried by infected birds but can occur in humans. The tubercle bacillus can live for a considerable period of time in air or dust. The most common means of acquiring the disease is by inhalation of respiratory droplets.

Sections in this article:

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Pathology