Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria. It usually affects the lungs, but can involve the kidneys, bones, spine, brain and other parts of the body. Tuberculosis is commonly referred to as TB.
To have TB infection means you have the tuberculosis bacteria in your body. In about 90 per cent of people the immune system can fight the bacteria, causing the bacteria to remain inactive. These people are not sick and cannot spread TB to others. This type of infection is called latent TB. However, sometimes the latent TB infection can turn into TB disease.
TB disease is an illness caused by active TB bacteria. The illness may occur shortly after the bacteria enter the body, or many years later. Someone with TB disease has active TB bacteria plus signs of illness.
Immune system – a system of special blood cells and tissues within the body that fight infections from bacteria, viruses and other micro-organisms.
How do you get tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is usually spread by breathing in the bacteria after someone who has untreated TB disease in their lungs coughs or sneezes.
You would usually need to have very close day-to-day contact with someone who has the active TB disease to breathe in the bacteria.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Tuberculosis can attack any part of the body, but the lungs are the most common site.
- a cough that lasts more than 3 weeks
- always feeling tired
- loss of appetite
- unexplained weight loss
- night sweats.
Some people have no symptoms of TB infection.
How do I know I have tuberculosis?
Only a doctor can make a diagnosis of TB.
There are two common tests your doctor may order to make a diagnosis of TB infection (latent TB):
- Tuberculin Skin Test: a test involving an injection of protein just under the top layer of your skin. This is sometimes called a Mantoux Test. If you have this test you will need to return 3 days later for your test result.
- Quantiferon blood test.
There are two common tests your doctor may order to make a diagnosis of TB disease (active TB):
- chest X-ray: to show whether tuberculosis has affected your lungs
- sputum test: to show if there is bacteria present in mucous coughed up from your lungs.
Is there a vaccination against tuberculosis?
Yes, BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) is a live vaccine against tuberculosis. It is only recommended in certain situations.
How is tuberculosis treated?
Your doctor will give you anti tuberculosis medicine which usually takes 6 months to complete. The medicine must be taken as prescribed without interruption.
You can take the tablets at home. You do not usually need to go into hospital for treatment.
Some patients with TB are referred on to the Anita Clayton Centre, a special clinic which runs the WA TB Control Program. It offers services to those diagnosed with TB.
Follow up treatment and tests
- If you have been asked to return for follow up your doctor or nurse case manager will explain why.
- You may need to have another Tuberculin Skin Test in 3 months.
- Depending on your results you may need to go back to your doctor or to the Anita Clayton Centre.
- There may be a requirement for contact tracing for contacts with a negative TST result.
Is TB curable?
Yes, TB is curable if treated early and properly.
While you have tuberculosis
If you have TB disease (active TB) in your lungs or throat you should:
- always cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
- stay home from work, school, university or social activities until you are told that you are not infectious.
In most cases patients will no longer spread bacteria after 2 weeks of taking the medicine.
If you do not have TB disease in your lungs or throat, or if you only have a TB infection (latent TB), you cannot spread the disease to other people.
Tuberculosis disease (active TB) is a notifiable disease. This means doctors, hospitals and laboratories must inform the Department of Health of your diagnosis. Notification is confidential.
Department of Health staff may talk to you or your doctor to find out how the infection occurred, to identify other people at risk of infection, and to tell you if you need to stay away from work, school or other group gatherings.
The Department of Health will also want to identify which of your close contacts may also need testing – this is called contact tracing.
Where to get help
- Not everyone with TB infection (latent TB) develops active TB.
- Tuberculosis can be treated and cured.
- Only people with TB disease of the lungs or throat can be infectious.
View and download this information as a PDF factsheet (122KB).
Anita Clayton Centre (WA Tuberculosis Control Program)
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