Frequently Asked Questions
What is TB?
"TB" is short for a disease called tuberculosis. TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The TB germs are passed through the air when someone who is sick with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, speaks, laughs, sings, or sneezes. The people near the sick person can breathe TB germs into their lungs. TB is not like many other airborne diseases. It is not easily spread to others and usually requires close contact over several hours or days.
TB germs can live in your body without making you sick. This is called latent TB infection. This means you have only inactive (sleeping) TB germs in your body. The inactive germs cannot be passed on to anyone else. However, if these germs wake up or become active in your body and multiply, you will get sick with TB disease.
When TB germs are active (multiplying in your body), this is called TB disease. These germs usually attack the lungs. They can also attack other parts of the body, such as the kidneys, brain, or spine. TB disease will make you sick. People with TB disease may spread the germs to people they spend time with every day.
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, eating utensils, handshake, toilet, or other surfaces where a TB patient has been.
What is latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI)?
Latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) is when a person breathes in TB bacteria and becomes infected, but their body fights off the bacteria and keeps it from growing. The bacteria are not active inside the person's body. However, they do remain alive in the body and can become active later on.
People with LTBI have no symptoms, don't feel sick and can't spread TB to others. They usually, but not always, have a positive skin test or blood test reaction. They can develop active TB disease if they are not treated.
Many people with LTBI never develop active TB disease. The TB bacteria remain inactive for life without causing disease. However, in other people, especially people who have weak immune systems, the bacteria can become active and cause TB disease. It is important to get treated for LTBI so that it doesn't develop into active TB disease.
How do I know if I have TB infection?
If you have been around someone who has TB disease, you should go to your doctor or your local health department for tests.
There are three tests that can be used to help detect TB infection. Usually a skin test is done. A small needle is used to put some testing material, called tuberculin, under the skin. In 2-3 days, you return to the health care worker who will check to see if there is a reaction to the test. In some cases, a test called QuantiFERON-TB Gold (QFT-G) or another called the T-Spot.TB test may be used. They are blood tests that measure how a person’s immune system reacts to the germs that cause TB. You may also be asked to have a chest x-ray if either the skin test or blood test is positive, or if you have symptoms of TB disease.
How is latent TB infection treated?
Treatment of latent TB infection substantially reduces the risk that TB infection will progress to disease. Most people with latent TB infection are treated with a medication called Isoniazid for 9 months. Certain groups are at very high risk of developing TB disease once infected, and every effort should be made to begin appropriate treatment and to ensure that those persons complete the entire course of treatment.
What is the difference between latent TB infection and TB disease?
People with latent TB infection have TB germs in their bodies, but they are not sick because the germs are not active. These people do not have symptoms of TB disease, and they cannot spread the germs to others. However, they may develop TB disease in the future. They are often prescribed treatment to prevent them from developing TB disease.
People with TB disease are sick from TB germs that are active, meaning that they are multiplying and destroying tissue in their body. They usually have symptoms of TB disease. These can include a cough lasting more than 2-3 weeks, blood in your phlegm, fever, fatigue, excessive sweating at night, or unintended weight loss. People with TB disease of the lungs or throat are capable of spreading germs to others. They are prescribed drugs that can treat TB disease.
How is TB disease treated?
TB disease can be treated by taking several drugs for 6 to 12 months. It is very important that people who have TB disease finish the medicine, and take the drugs exactly as prescribed. If they stop taking the drugs too soon, they can become sick again. If they do not take the drugs correctly, the germs that are still alive may become resistant to those drugs. TB that is resistant to drugs is harder and more expensive to treat. In some situations, staff of the local health department meet regularly with patients who have TB to watch them take their medications. This is called directly observed therapy (DOT). DOT helps the patient complete treatment in the least amount of time.
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