Tuberculosis Facts

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by germs that are spread between people through the air. TB usually affects the lungs but may also affect other parts of the body, including the brain, kidneys or spine. It can be deadly if left untreated.

x-ray of lungs

How does TB spread?

  • TB germs get into the air when a person who is sick from TB disease in the lungs coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings.
  • Germs can stay in the air for several hours, depending on the environment.
  • A new person gets infected by breathing in the germs from the air.
  • TB infection is not spread by sharing food and drink, shaking someone’s hand, touching bed linens or toilet seats.

How do you know if you are infected with TB? 

  • Breathing in the TB germs does not usually make people sick right away.
  • The germs can stay hidden in the body for many years after a person gets infected.
  • Most often people have no idea when they get infected and only find out after getting sick or if someone thinks to do  a test.

Who is most at risk of getting TB?

People at the highest risk of getting infected include people who:

  • Spend the most time with someone who is sick with TB disease.
  • Have lived or traveled to countries that have a high rate of TB.
  • Have weakened immune systems, especially those with HIV infection.
  • Such as, family members, friends, and coworkers of a person with active TB. 

What are the symptoms of TB disease?

The most common symptoms of active TB disease are:

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

Some people with early TB disease don’t have any symptoms when they get diagnosed. If TB disease is outside of the lungs, then the symptoms will depend on the body part involved.

How is TB infection diagnosed and treated?

  • People who are at risk for having TB but who are not sick can be tested with a simple skin test or a blood test.
  • If a skin test or blood test shows that someone has been infected with TB, other tests, like a chest x‐ray, are needed to make sure the person doesn’t have active TB even if they don’t feel sick.
  • A person with an inactive TB infection can take medication to prevent them from developing TB disease in the future.

How is active TB disease treated?

  • Active TB disease can almost always be treated and cured with medicine.
  • Treatment typically lasts six to 12 months. It is very important that all medicine is taken exactly as prescribed.
  • Treatment requires a combination of medications to kill all the germs and to make sure they don’t become resistant to the medications during the course of treatment.
  • TB disease that is resistant to the usual drugs is much harder and more expensive to treat and takes longer.

How does having TB disease affect a person’s
daily life?

  • People who are sick with TB in the lungs will need to isolate. Isolation periods are typically 7-21 days, and depend on how much TB is in a person’s lungs and how they are responding to treatment.
  • Isolation can usually happen at home since family members have already been exposed and will be tested, and treated if necessary, for TB by the health department.
  • After a few weeks on medications, a person can usually return to their normal routine.

What should you do if you think you have TB?

If you think you might have TB disease or TB infection, call your doctor or local health department to schedule a test.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention