Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Hand FAQ

Question:

Mother practically had to have two of her fingers amputated before they finally figured out she had an infection from tuberculosis. She had tuberculosis as a child but has not been bothered by it since then. Have you ever heard of this happening?

Answer:

Infection with the mycobacterium known as mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis) usually affects the lungs but it can have extrapulmonary (outside the lungs) affects. Bone, joints, skin, and soft tissues are favorite targets. When the spine is affected, the condition is referred to as Potts disease. In the case of the fingers, hand, and/or wrist infections, a previous history of tuberculosis has been reported. Older adults who had tuberculosis as children may still have the mycobacterium stored within their bodies. The body walled off the bacterium and kept it from affecting the person but did not get rid of the problem. If the mycobacterium were not inactivated by direct contact with sunlight or destroyed by antibiotics, they can become reactivated. This reactivation process occurs most often in older adults whose immune systems have become weakened or compromised by age, inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, or some other chronic health problem (e.g., diabetes, autoimmune diseases). And because the mycobacteria grow so slowly, tissue cultures don't always show the problem for months (sometimes even years). Without an accurate identification of the underlying organism, treatment with antibiotics may not be effective until the specific drug (or combination of drugs) needed is used. By that time, significant damage can occur (such as you describe with your mother). Clifton Meals, MD, and Emily Hattwick. Mycobacterial Infections of the Hand and Wrist: A Review of Current Literature. In Current Orthopaedic Practice. March/April 2011. Vol. 22. No. 2. Pp. 198-203.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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