What is tuberculosis (TB)?
Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial disease that usually attacks the lungs. But it can also attack other parts of the body, including the kidneys, spine, and brain.
Not everyone infected with TB bacteria (germs) becomes sick. So, there are two types of TB conditions:
- Latent TB infection, where the TB germs live in your body but don't make you sick.
- TB disease (active TB) where you get sick from the TB germs. TB disease can almost always be cured with antibiotics. But if it's not treated properly, it can be fatal.
TB is found in the U.S., but it is more common in certain other countries.
What causes tuberculosis (TB)?
TB is caused by bacteria (germs) called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The germs spread from person to person through the air. People who have TB disease in their throat or lungs spread the germs in the air when they cough, sneeze, talk, or sing. If you breathe in the air that has the germs, you can get TB. TB is not spread by touching, kissing, or sharing food or dishes.
You're more likely to catch TB from people you live or work with than from people you see for shorter amounts of time.
Who is more likely to get infected with tuberculosis (TB) germs?
Anyone who is near a person with TB disease can get infected with the germs. You are more likely to be near someone with TB disease if you:
- Were born in or often travel to countries where TB disease is common
- Are a health care worker
- Work or live in a place where TB is more common, such as shelters for people without homes, jails, and nursing homes
Who is more likely to develop TB disease?
Certain people are more likely to get sick with TB disease after they get infected. They include people who:
- Have HIV/AIDS
- Became infected with TB in the last 2 years
- Have other diseases, such as diabetes, that make it hard for your body to fight TB germs
- Have alcohol use disorder or inject illegal drugs
- Were not treated correctly for TB in the past
- Are under age 5
- Are an older adult
What are the symptoms of tuberculosis (TB)?
Most people who have TB germs in their bodies don't get sick with TB disease. Instead, they have latent TB infection. With a latent TB infection, you:
- Don't have symptoms
- Can't spread TB to others
- Could get sick with active TB disease in the future if your immune system becomes weak for another reason
- Need to take medicine to prevent getting sick with active TB disease in the future
If you have TB disease, the TB germs are active, meaning that they are growing (multiplying) inside your body and making you sick. If the TB is growing in your lungs or throat, you can spread the TB germs to other people. You can get sick with TB disease weeks to years after you're infected with TB germs.
With TB disease, your symptoms will depend on where the TB is growing in your body
- General symptoms may include:
- Chills and fever
- Night sweats (heavy sweating during sleep)
- Losing weight without trying
- Loss of appetite
- Weakness or fatigue
- Symptoms from TB disease in your lungs may include:
- A cough that lasts longer than 3 weeks
- Coughing up blood or sputum (a thick mucus from the lungs)
- Chest pain
How is tuberculosis (TB) diagnosed?
Your health care provider or your local health department can test you to find out if you have TB germs in your body. They will give you either a TB skin or blood test.
If your test shows that you have TB germs, you'll need to have other tests to see if the germs are actively growing:
You may need a TB test if you have symptoms of TB disease or if you are at high risk because you are more likely to be near someone with TB disease.
What is the treatment for tuberculosis (TB)?
The treatment for both latent TB infection and TB disease is antibiotics. To make sure you get rid of all the TB germs in your body, it's very important to follow the directions for taking your medicine.
If you don't follow the directions, the TB germs in your body could change and become antibiotic resistant. That means the medicine may stop working and your TB may become hard to cure.
- For latent TB infections, you usually take medicines for 3 to 9 months. Treatment helps make sure you don't get TB disease in the future.
- For active TB disease, you usually need to take medicines for 6 to 12 months. Treatment will almost always cure you if you take your pills the right way.
- For TB disease in your lungs or throat, you'll need to stay home for a few weeks, so you don't spread disease to other people. You can protect the people you live with by:
- Covering your nose and mouth.
- Opening windows when possible.
- Not getting too close to them.
By following medical advice for TB testing and treatment, you can keep yourself healthy and help stop the spread of TB.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention