Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This bacteria can attack the lungs, kidneys, spine, or brain. If not treated properly, Tuberculosis disease can result in death.

How is Tuberculosis Spread?

Tuberculosis is spread through the air when a person who has Tuberculosis disease sneezes, coughs, or shouts. People nearby may breathe in the germs and become infected. The germs can settle in the lungs and then begin to grow. Once they grow the germs can move through the blood to other parts of the body.

Tuberculosis in the lungs and throat can be spread to other people. Tuberculosis in other parts of the body is not usually infectious to others.

People with active Tuberculosis of the lungs or throat are most likely to spread the disease to the people they spend the most time with. This includes family members, friends, and co-workers.

What is Tuberculosis infection?

Tuberculosis infection is also called Latent Tuberculosis. People with Latent Tuberculosis have the bacteria in their system, however, they have not become ill. The bacteria in the body remain alive but are inactive, however they can become active in the future.

People with Latent Tuberculosis infection:

  • have no symptoms
  • don’t feel sick
  • can’t spread Tuberculosis to others
  • usually have a positive skin test
  • can develop active Tuberculosis

People with Latent Tuberculosis can be treated with medications that prevent them from developing Active Tuberculosis. Treatment is not always necessary and depends on your own medical history.

What is active Tuberculosis disease?

In the case of Tuberculosis the bacteria have become active and the immune system cannot stop them from growing. The bacteria attack the body and destroy tissue. If this occurs in the lungs, the bacteria can actually create a hole in the lung. A person with active Tuberculosis disease is now sick. Symptoms depend on where in the body the Tuberculosis is growing.

Tuberculosis in the lungs may cause:

  • a bad cough that lasts longer than two weeks
  • pain in the chest
  • coughing up blood or sputum

Other symptoms of Tuberculosis disease may be:

  • weakness or fatigue
  • weight loss
  • no appetite
  • chills
  • fever
  • sweating at night

If you have Active Tuberculosis you can be treated with medicine. Commonly Active Tuberculosis is treated with several medications including: isoniazid, rifampin, ethambutol, pyrazinamide. Normally, it takes nine months of being on medication for all the bacteria in your system to be killed. Even though you no longer have Tuberculosis disease you will always have a positive skin test reading.

When should you be tested for Tuberculosis?

You should be tested for Tuberculosis if:

  • you have spent time with a person known to have active Tuberculosis disease
  • you have Human Immunodeficiency Virus or a weakened immune system
  • you think you might have active Tuberculosis
  • you are from a country where active Tuberculosis disease is very common such as Latin America, Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia
  • you live in a homeless shelter or prison

How do you test for Tuberculosis?

A Tuberculosis (TB) skin test is used to find out if you have Tuberculosis infection. You can get a skin test at the health unit or at your doctor’s office. A nurse will inject a small amount of fluid (Tuberculin) just under the skin of your forearm. Two or three days later you must return to have the skin test read. Contact your healthcare provider about where to get a TB skin test.

What if I have a positive Tuberculosis skin test?

Your doctor may send you for some more tests to see if you have active Tuberculosis disease. The tests include a chest x-ray and a test of the phlegm you cough up. You may also have blood or urine samples taken.

What if I have been vaccinated with Bacille Calmette Guerin?

Bacille Calmette Guerin is a vaccination that is not used in Canada. It is often given to children and infants in other countries where Tuberculosis is common. If you have been vaccinated with Bacille Calmette Guerin you may have a positive reaction to a Tuberculosis skin test.

Tuberculosis Worldwide

Tuberculosis is still a major problem in the world today. Currently 8,000 people a day die as a result of Tuberculosis. Currently the Stop Tuberculosis Partnership has the goal of cutting deaths related to Tuberculosis disease in half by 2015. The long term goal is the elimination of Tuberculosis as a global public health problem by 2050.

The way we can help to eliminate Tuberculosis is by treating those individuals with either latent Tuberculosis infection or active Tuberculosis disease. That is why it is so important to have a Tuberculosis skin test if you are someone who could be at risk for getting Tuberculosis.

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