Tuberculosis (TB)

Tuberculosis (TB) is a treatable bacterial infection. TB usually affects the lungs (pulmonary TB) but can affect other parts of the body as well, including kidneys, fluid and tissue around the brain (meningitis), or the spine.

A man holding paper lungs in front of his chest.
  • TB is spread only from people who are sick with symptoms of TB disease of the lungs or throat and have an abnormal chest x-ray. TB is spread when they cough, talk, or sing, and the TB germs are sent into the air. Persons who breathe in the air containing these TB germs can become infected.
  • People with TB disease are most likely to spread it to those people they spend a lot of time with every day.
  • TB is not spread by sharing food or drink, shaking someone’s hand, touching a doorknob or toilet seat.

Some common symptoms of active TB include:

  • A cough lasting more than three weeks
  • Fever
  • Heavy sweating at night
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Coughing up blood
  • Pain in the chest
  • Chills
  • Weakness or fatigue

A person with TB can only be contagious if he or she is sick and showing symptoms, such as cough, fever or night sweats.

Inactive or latent TB infection is present in someone who tests positive for TB infection but has no symptoms, doesn’t feel ill, and has a normal chest x-ray. They cannot spread the infection to others, but they could become sick with active TB at some point in their lifetime.

People at highest risk of getting infected are people who:

  • Spend the most time with someone who is sick with TB disease (family members, friends, coworkers)
  • Have weakened immune systems
  • Have lived or traveled to countries that have a high rate of TB

TB infection is diagnosed by a blood test or a skin test. Anyone with a positive TB test needs a chest x-ray and a medical evaluation to determine the type of TB infection they have.

A positive test for TB infection only tells that a person has been infected with TB germs. The test alone does not tell whether or not the person has progressed to active TB. A medical evaluation as well as chest x-ray and possibly a sample of sputum are needed to see whether the person has TB disease.

  • Active and latent TB can be treated and cured with medication.
  • For active TB, treatment requires a combination of medications to kill all the germs and to make sure they don’t become resistant to the medications during treatment. Treatment typically lasts six to twelve months.
  • Latent or inactive TB treatment typically involves using one mediation for a shorter duration (usually four months).
  • For any TB treatment, it is very important that all medicine is taken exactly as prescribed.