A woman in California discovered that her swollen and painful pinky finger was actually a rare symptom of tuberculosis, a dangerous and potentially deadly bacterial infection.
Doctors at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center have reported the case of a 42-year-old woman who sought treatment after suffering swelling and discomfort in her left pinky finger.
UCSF doctors Jennifer Mandal and Mary Margaretten said that the woman had no injuries to her fingers. A CT scan and an X-ray found issues with her bones.
After performing a biopsy of the woman’s skin tissue, however, they found that she had been infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis in the lungs.
Tuberculosis is a contagious disease, that was once a leading cause of death in the United States. The bacteria that causes the illness are spread through the air and usually affects the lungs. They can also spread to other parts of the body, like the spine and the brain.
Fortunately, despite having been infected with TB bacteria, the patient’s lungs were not affected.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick, so two related conditions exist, namely latent TB infection and active TB disease.
WebMD explained that in latent TB, the germs are present in the body, but the immune system stops them from spreading. The infection is still alive in the body though and may possibly become active one day. About 90 percent of active TB in adults are from reactivation of latent TB infection.
How was the patient infected by TB bacteria? The doctors learned that the woman had lupus and was taking medications to suppress the immune system, making her more susceptible to diseases, including tuberculosis.
Further investigation revealed that the woman’s husband, who had recently traveled to China, developed a cough and was later diagnosed with tuberculosis.
The woman was treated with several anti-tuberculosis drugs and no longer had any symptom of tuberculosis after nine months of treatment. Tuberculosis is curable and stops being contagious after three weeks of treatment.
“Although infection of the finger is a rare extrapulmonary manifestation of tuberculosis, it is an important consideration in immunosuppressed patients,” Mandal and Margaretten wrote in their report published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Sept. 20.
“This patient was treated with a four-drug antituberculosis regimen for a total of 9 months and had complete resolution of her symptoms.”