Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial
infection that often infects the lungs. Other organs such as the kidneys, spine, or
brain may also be affected. TB is mainly spread from person to person through the air,
such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also cause an active infection
after not being active, in someone who was exposed at an earlier time.
There is a difference between being
infected with the TB bacteria and having active tuberculosis disease.
The stages of TB are:
The main TB bacteria is
Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis). Many people infected with this bacteria
never have active TB. They remain in the inactive (latent) TB stage. But some will
develop active TB anytime from months to years or even decades after being exposed. The
chance of developing active TB increases in babies and children and in older adults. It
also increases in people with a weak immune system, especially those with HIV. Or in
those getting medicines that suppress the immune system.
The TB bacteria is spread through
the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, sings, or laughs. It’s very
unlikely to be spread from personal items that a person with TB has touched. Good
ventilation can limit the spread of TB to other people. But early diagnosis and
treatment of the person with active TB is most important. It's also important to limit
other people's exposure. This means using masks and respiratory isolation.
TB affects all ages, races, income
levels, and genders. Those at higher risk include:
Each person's symptoms may vary.
The most common symptoms of active TB include:
The symptoms of TB may look like
other lung conditions or health problems. Talk with a healthcare provider for a
TB infection is often diagnosed
with a skin or blood test. In the skin test (called a PPD), a small amount of testing
material is injected into the top layer of the skin. If a certain size bump develops
within 2 or 3 days, the test may be positive for TB infection. A blood test called
quantiferon may also be used. Other tests that may be key for diagnosing TB include
X-rays and sputum tests.
TB skin or blood tests are
suggested for people:
In children, the American Academy
of Pediatrics recommends testing:
Treatment may vary depending on if
you have latent or active TB. Treatment may include:
If TB of the lung is not treated
early or if treatment isn’t followed, long-lasting (permanent) lung damage can result.
TB can also cause infection of the bones, spine, brain and spinal cord, lymph glands,
and other parts of the body. It can damage those areas and cause short-term (temporary)
or permanent symptoms from the damage. Uncontrolled TB can lead to death. And TB remains
one of the leading infectious causes of death worldwide.
If you will be spending time with
anyone with active TB, wear a strongly filtering face mask. And try not to stay in a
small enclosed space with poor ventilation. People who work in situations where there is
a high risk for contact with people infected with TB should be tested for TB on a
routine basis. This includes healthcare and shelter workers. In countries outside the
U.S. where TB is more common, a childhood vaccine is often given. But it's not clear how
well it works.
Let your healthcare provider know
if your symptoms get worse or you get new symptoms.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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