Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by germs that are spread through the air from person to person. The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these germs and become infected. The TB germs usually attack the lungs, but can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.
TB is NOT spread by:
•Shaking someone's hand
•Sharing food or drink
•Touching bed linens or toilet seats
Most people exposed to TB never develop symptoms because their immune systems stop the disease. People with weak immune symptoms (maybe because they abuse alcohol or drugs, are malnourished, have HIV infection, or have another lung disease) are at greater risk to become sick.
Latent TB Infection and TB Disease
Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick with TB disease. People who become infected, but are not sick have what is called latent TB infection; the TB germ is ‘sleeping’. People who have latent TB infection do not feel sick, do not have any symptoms, and cannot spread TB bacteria to others. But some people with latent TB infection go on to get TB disease. People who have TB disease do feel sick, have signs and symptoms, and may spread TB bacteria to others if the germs are growing in their lungs.
What are the symptoms?
Often, when people first begin to develop TB, the disease is so mild that they don't even know they have it. Symptoms begin to develop as the disease progresses. The symptoms may include:
- A cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer
- Coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lungs)
- Weakness or feeling very tired
- Weight loss
- No appetite
- Sweating at night
If you have any of these symptoms you should contact Public Health or your local Health Centre to get tested. If a family member or someone you know has any of these symptoms, encourage them to be tested.
How to prevent getting TB
- Avoid close contact with people who have the disease.
- If you are told by a health care provider that you need to be tested for TB, follow through with all the tests.
- If you are on medication for latent TB infection (sleeping TB), take all your medication until finished.
- If a family member or someone you are close to has symptoms of Tuberculosis, encourage them to be tested.
- If a family member or someone you are close to is diagnosed with Tuberculosis, get tested.
- If you have concerns about TB, see your health care provider for testing and advice.
- Eat well, keep active, don’t smoke and live a healthy lifestyle.
Treatment for TB
Usually, doctors combine four antibiotics to treat TB disease. The treatment lasts at least 6 months. People can be cured if they follow their health care provider’s advice and stick with the treatment until it is completed.
People with latent TB infection can be treated with one antibiotic, taken twice weekly for 9 months. This reduces their risk of developing TB disease.
It is very important to stick with the treatment. If you miss doses of medicine, or if you stop taking your medicine too soon, the treatment may fail. Or you may even have to start the treatment over again from the beginning. Not following the treatment can also cause the infection to get worse or develop a resistance to antibiotics. This is much harder to treat.
If TB disease is not treated, it can damage your lungs or other organs and can even lead to death. You can also spread TB by not being treated or by not completing treatment for TB disease.