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Natural history, microbiology, and pathogenesis of tuberculosis

Lee W Riley, MD
Section Editor
C Fordham von Reyn, MD
Deputy Editor
Elinor L Baron, MD, DTMH


Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the second most common infectious cause of death in adults worldwide (human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] is the most common). The human host serves as a natural reservoir for M. tuberculosis. The ability of the organism to efficiently establish latent infection has enabled it to spread to nearly one-third of individuals worldwide. Approximately 9 million new cases of active TB disease occur each year, leading to about 1.5 million deaths. The disease incidence is magnified by the concurrent epidemic of HIV infection. (See "Epidemiology of tuberculosis".)

The microbiology and pathogenesis of M. tuberculosis will be reviewed here. The immunology of this infection is discussed separately. (See "Immunology of tuberculosis".)


Inhalation of aerosol droplets containing M. tuberculosis with subsequent deposition in the lungs leads to one of four possible outcomes:

Immediate clearance of the organism

Primary disease: immediate onset of active disease

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 13, 2016.
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