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Facts about Tuberculosis (TB)


What is TB?

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by germs that are spread from person to person through the air. TB usually affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, the kidneys, or the spine.

What Are the Symptoms of TB?

The general symptoms of TB disease include feeling tired, weight loss, fever, and night sweats.  The symptoms of TB disease of the lungs also include a bad cough that does not improve and lasts 3 weeks or more, chest pain, and coughing up blood.  Symptoms of TB disease occurring outside of the lungs depend on the area affected.

Since symptoms of TB usually start gradually, often TB is not suspected or is first diagnosed as another illness.

How Does TB Spread?

TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The TB germs enter the air when a person with active TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these germs and become infected.  Those at highest risk of becoming infected with TB include people who share a home or spend a lot of time with a person who has infectious TB disease, such as family members, coworkers, and close friends.

TB is NOT spread by shaking someone’s hand, sharing food or drink, touching bed linens or toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes or kissing.

Not everyone who has the TB germ in their body becomes sick. Two TB-related conditions exist: latent TB infection and active TB disease.

What is the Difference Between Latent TB Infection (LTBI) and TB Disease?

People with latent TB infection have TB germs in their bodies, but they do not have symptoms of TB disease and can’t spread the germs to others. Since they may develop TB disease in the future, people with LTBI are often treated to prevent them from developing TB disease.

People with active TB disease are sick from TB germs that they are multiplying and destroying tissue in their body. They usually have symptoms of TB disease. People with active TB disease of the lungs or throat can spread germs to others. TB disease can be treated.


A Person with Latent TB Infection

A Person with TB Disease

• Has no symptoms

• Has symptoms that may include:
- a bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer
- pain in the chest
- coughing up blood or sputum
- weakness or fatigue
- weight loss
- no appetite
- chills
- fever
- sweating at night

• Does not feel sick

• Usually feels sick

• Cannot spread TB bacteria to others

• May spread TB bacteria to others

• Usually has a skin test or blood test result indicating TB infection

• Usually has a skin test or blood test result indicating TB infection

• Has a normal chest x-ray and a negative sputum smear

• May have an abnormal chest x-ray, or positive sputum smear or culture

• Needs treatment for latent TB infection to prevent active TB disease

• Needs treatment to treat active TB disease


What Should I Do if I Have Been Exposed to Someone with TB Disease?

People with TB disease are most likely to spread the germs to people they spend time with every day, such as family members or coworkers. If you have been around someone who has TB disease, you should go to your doctor or your local health department for tests.

Because a person with latent TB infection cannot spread germs to other people, you do not need testing if you have spent time with someone with latent TB infection.

How Do You Get Tested for TB?

There are two types of tests that can be used to help detect TB infection: a skin test or a blood test:

  1. The Mantoux tuberculin skin test is performed by injecting a small amount of fluid (called tuberculin) into the skin in the lower part of the arm. A person given the tuberculin skin test must return within 48 to 72 hours to have a trained health care worker look for a reaction on the arm.
  2. The TB blood test measures how the patient’s immune system reacts to the germs that cause TB.   There are two blood tests, the Quantiferon Gold In-Tube and T-SpotTB test, and both are available in some places in Virginia.  Your healthcare provider or local health department can tell you more about these tests.

What Does a Positive Test for TB Infection Mean?

A positive test for TB infection only tells that a person has been infected with TB germs. It does not tell whether or not the person has active TB disease. Other tests, such as a chest x-ray and a sample of sputum, are needed to see whether the person has TB disease.

How is TB Treated?

TB Disease:  TB disease can be treated by taking several drugs for 6 to 12 months or longer. It is very important that people who have TB disease finish the medicine, and take the drugs exactly as ordered. If they stop taking the drugs too soon, they can become sick again; if they do not take the drugs correctly, the germs that are still alive may become resistant to those drugs. TB that is resistant to drugs is harder to treat and more expensive.

In Virginia, local health department staff meets regularly with patients who have TB to watch them take their medications. This is called directly observed therapy (DOT). DOT helps the patient complete treatment in the least amount of time.

Latent Tuberculosis Infection:  A person with latent TB infection may also need to take drugs in order to kill the TB germs and prevent developing TB disease in the future. Some people are more likely than others to develop TB disease once they have TB infection. This includes people with HIV infection, people who were recently exposed to someone with TB disease, and people with certain medical conditions such as diabetes and kidney problems.

What Should I Do if I Have Symptoms of TB or Have Been with Someone who has TB?
If you have symptoms that could be TB or have been in close contact with someone who has active TB disease, you should call your healthcare provider or your local health department. 
Click here to find the closest health department

Additional Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:  TB Information
Virginia Department of Health TB Control staff page


 

Last Updated: 12-17-2012

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