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What is Tuberculosis?

What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis – often shortened to TB -- is a disease caused by bacteria that are spread through the air from person to person. Tuberculosis can prove fatal if it is not treated properly.

Despite misconceptions about the disease, it can be found in every state, in schools and workplaces, and in rural and urban settings.

Here’s what’s important to know: the bacteria that cause TB is spread through the air from person to person when the infected person coughs, speaks or even sings. People in the area may breathe in those bacteria and become infected.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are two types of conditions associated with TB: a latent Tuberculosis infection and the actual TB disease.

TB bacteria can live in a person’s body without making a person sick. That is an infection called latent TB. Most people who breathe in the bacteria are able to fight off infection. They probably don’t feel sick or have any symptoms, and cannot spread TB to others. Treatment of latent TB infection is essential to controlling and eliminating TB in the United States.

If you think you may have latent TB infection, or TB disease, or were exposed to someone with TB disease, contact your health care provider and receive treatment as soon as possible.

When the TB bacteria become active and multiply, that’s when the problem becomes TB disease. To help prevent that, some people with latent infections are given treatment to help stop the development of the full-blown disease.

According to the CDC, TB bacteria most commonly grow in the lungs, called pulmonary TB. It can cause symptoms such as:

  • A bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer
  • Pain in the chest
  • Coughing up blood or sputum (mucus from deep inside the lungs)

Other symptoms of TB disease may include:

  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • No appetite
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Sweating at night

The good news is that TB can be treated by medicine. As with any dosage for an illness or disease, all medication should be taken as prescribed and until finished, to ensure the disease is stopped.

Many people are tested for TB when they begin new jobs or school. Some people are at higher risk of being infected and should be tested. Those include:

  • People who have spent time with someone with TB disease
  • People from a country where TB disease is common (most countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia)
  • People who live or work in high-risk settings (correctional facilities, long-term care facilities or nursing homes, and homeless shelters)
  • Healthcare workers who care for patients at increased risk for TB disease
  • Infants, children, and adolescents exposed to adults are at increased risk for latent tuberculosis infection or TB disease

Typically, Tuberculosis is detected in one of two ways: the TB skin test, or a blood test. A positive reading on either test indicates infection with TB bacteria – just not whether a person has latent TB infection or full-blown disease. Your primary care physician will order a chest x-ray and a sample of sputum to determine the level of TB.

If you believe you may have been exposed, or have either infection or disease, contact your primary care provider.