Tuberculosis Elimination Division TB Information for Patients and the General Public

Loading...
What is TB?

"TB" is short for a disease called tuberculosis. TB is spread by tiny germs that can float in the air. The TB germs may spray into the air if a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, shouts, or sneezes. Anyone nearby can breathe TB germs into the lungs.

TB germs can live in your body without making you sick. This is called TB infection. Your immune system traps TB germs with special germ fighters. Your germ fighters keep TB germs from making you sick.

But sometimes, the TB germs can break away and multiply. Then they cause TB disease. The germs can attack the lungs or other parts of the body. They can go to the kidneys, the brain, or the spine. If people have TB disease, they need medical help. If they don’t get help, they can die.

How was I exposed to TB?

You may have been exposed to TB if you spent time near someone with TB disease of the lungs or throat. You can only get infected by breathing in TB germs that person coughs into the air. You cannot get TB from someone’s clothes, drinking glass, handshake, or toilet.

How do I know if I have TB infection?

If you have been exposed to TB germs, you will be given a TB skin test. If it is "positive," you probably have TB infection. If it is "negative," you may be retested in a few weeks, just to be sure. If you do have TB infection, you may need medication.

A skin test is the only way to tell if you have TB infection. This test is usually done on the arm. A small needle is used to put some testing material, called tuberculin, under the skin. In two or three days, a health worker will check to see if there is a reaction to the test. The test is "positive" if a bump about the size of a pencil eraser or bigger appears on your arm. The bump means you probably have TB infection.

TB CAN BE CURED

If you have TB disease, you may:

  • feel weak,
  • lose your appetite,
  • lose weight,
  • have a fever, or
  • sweat a lot at night.

These are signs of TB disease. These signs may last for several weeks. Without treatment, they usually get worse.

If the TB disease is in your lungs, you may:

  • cough a lot,
  • cough up mucus or phlegm ("flem"),
  • cough up blood, or
  • have chest pain when you cough.

You should always cover your mouth when you cough!

If you get TB disease in another part of the body, the symptoms will be different. Only a doctor can tell you if you have TB disease.

How do I know if I have TB infection or TB disease?

A skin test is the only way to tell if you have TB infection. The test is "positive" if a bump about the size of a pencil eraser or bigger appears on your arm. This bump means you probably have TB infection.

Other tests can show if you have TB disease. An x-ray of your chest can tell if there is damage to your lungs from TB. TB germs may be deep inside your lungs. Phlegm ("flem") you cough up will be tested in a laboratory to see if the TB germs are in your lungs.

If TB germs are in your lungs or throat, you can give TB infection to your family and friends. They can get sick with TB disease. You may have to be separated from other people until you can’t spread TB germs. This probably won’t be for very long, if you take your medicine.

Can TB disease be cured?

Yes! TB disease can be cured by using special drugs that kill TB germs. But TB germs are strong. It takes at least six to nine months of medication to wipe them all out. It is very important that you take all your medicine.

If you stop taking medication too soon, it is a big problem. The TB germs that are still alive become even stronger. You may need stronger drugs to kill these "super" TB germs. This doesn’t have to happen. If you take all of the medicine, the TB germs will die.

A few people have side effects to anti-TB drugs. You will get tests to check on this.

HIV and TB

How does HIV infection affect TB?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus, the AIDS virus) helps TB germs make you sick by attacking the germ fighters in your body. If you are infected with HIV and with TB germs, you have a very big chance of getting TB disease. The TB germs are much more likely to attack your lungs and other parts of the body. But you can be cured.

If you think you might have HIV infection, talk to your doctor about getting an HIV test. If you have HIV infection and TB infection, the sooner you start taking anti-TB medicine, the better your chances are to stay healthy for many years.

If you have HIV infection, it is very important to get tested for TB infection at least once a year. Anti-TB drugs are strong. They can prevent or cure TB disease even in people with HIV infection.

Remember, anti-TB drugs only work when you take them!

The TB Skin Test

How do I know if I have TB infection?

A skin test is the only way to tell if you have TB infection. This test is usually done on the arm. A small needle is used to put some testing material, called tuberculin, under the skin. In two or three days, a health worker will check to see if there is a reaction to the test.

The test is "positive" if a bump about the size of a pencil eraser or bigger appears on your arm. This bump means you probably have TB infection. You may need medicine to keep from getting sick.

Note: If you have ever had a "positive" reaction to a TB skin test or if you have been treated with TB drugs in the past, tell the health worker.

You can prevent TB

How do I know if I have TB infection?

A skin test is the only way to tell if you have TB infection. The test is "positive" if a bump about the size of a pencil eraser or bigger appears on your arm. This bump means you probably have TB infection.

What should I do if I have TB infection?

If you have TB infection, you may need treatment so you will not get TB disease later. This is called "preventive" treatment. Isoniazid (INH) is the anti-TB drug used most often. Unless you get preventive treatment, TB infection can turn into TB disease. Those who are more likely to get sick from TB disease include:

  • alcoholics or injection drug users;
  • people with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, certain types of cancers, and being underweight; and especially
  • people with HIV infection (the virus that causes AIDS).

These things make your body weaker. When your body is weaker, it can’t fight TB germs any more and TB infection can turn into TB disease.

It is very important that your take your preventive treatment as soon as your doctor recommends. It takes at least six months to a year to kill all the TB germs. Remember, you will always have TB germs in your body unless you kill them with the right medicine.

Region 2/3 Home

Last updated April 13, 2011