You wouldn't think that a swollen pinky finger should warrant much worry. But for one woman in California, it turned out to be a sign of a rare manifestation of tuberculosis, according to a new report on the case, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The 42-year-old went to the hospital after her finger had been swollen and painful for a week, though she had not injured it at all.
Doctors performed an X-ray and CT scan and found swelling in the soft tissue of her finger, but no issues with her bones. Only after doing a biopsy did they find Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis.
The report states the woman had lupus and was being treated with medications to suppress her immune system, which made her more susceptible to this infectious disease. After investigating, doctors concluded that her husband had contracted tuberculosis during a recent trip to China and passed it on to her unknowingly through a cough.
That means the woman's husband had active tuberculosis bacteria in his system. The bacteria can also be present in an inactive form and remain in your system without making you, or anyone else, sick for years. Regardless, treatment is crucial to prevent the disease from manifesting, according to Mayo Clinic. Though it's not common in the U.S. anymore thanks to antibiotics, tuberculosis is a leading killer worldwide.
Tuberculosis bacteria are spread through the air, and while the disease typically occurs in the lungs, it can also affect other parts of the body, like the kidneys, spine, and brain. Although it’s rare for tuberculosis to develop in the finger, the report says it’s an important diagnosis to consider in patients with weakened immune systems.
Other symptoms include coughing up blood, chest pain, weight loss, fatigue, fever, night sweats, chills, and loss of appetite, according to Mayo Clinic. As this case shows, people with compromised immunity are more likely to catch tuberculosis, including those battling HIV/AIDS, diabetes, kidney disease, and cancer.
The symptoms of tuberculosis are common for other conditions as well, so if you suspect you could be coming down with it, it’s crucial to consult your doctor ASAP. An early diagnosis helped the woman in this case make full recovery. She was treated with various medications for nine months, and her symptoms went away completely.