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What is tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is a disease caused by germs that are spread from person to person through the air. Tuberculosis usually affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, the kidneys, or the spine. A person with tuberculosis can die if they do not get treatment.

What are the symptoms of tuberculosis?
The general symptoms of tuberculosis disease include feelings of sickness or weakness, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. The symptoms of tuberculosis disease of the lungs also include coughing, chest pain, and the coughing up of blood. Symptoms of tuberculosis disease in other parts of the body depend on the area affected.

How is tuberculosis spread?
Tuberculosis germs are put into the air when a person with tuberculosis disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. These germs can stay in the air for several hours, depending on the environment. Persons who breathe in the air containing these tuberculosis germs can become infected; this is called latent tuberculosis infection.

What is the difference between latent tuberculosis infection and tuberculosis disease?
People with latent tuberculosis infection have tuberculosis germs in their bodies, but they are not sick because the germs are not active. These people do not have symptoms of tuberculosis disease, and they cannot spread the germs to others. However, they may develop tuberculosis disease in the future. They are often prescribed treatment to prevent them from developing tuberculosis disease.

People with tuberculosis disease are sick from tuberculosis germs that are active, meaning that they are multiplying and destroying tissue in their body. They usually have symptoms of tuberculosis disease. People with tuberculosis disease of the lungs or throat are capable of spreading germs to others. They are prescribed drugs that can treat tuberculosis disease.

What should I do If I have spent time with someone with latent tuberculosis infection?
A person with latent tuberculosis infection cannot spread germs to other people. You do not need to be tested if you have spent time with someone with latent tuberculosis infection. However, if you have spent time with someone with tuberculosis disease or someone with symptoms of tuberculosis, you should be tested.

What should I do if I have been Eexposed to someone with tuberculosis disease?
People with tuberculosis disease are most likely to spread the germs to people they spend time with every day, such as family members or coworkers. If you have been around someone who has tuberculosis disease, you should go to your doctor or your local health department for tests.

How do you get tested for tuberculosis?
There are two tests that can be used to help detect tuberculosis infection: a skin test or a special tuberculosis blood test. The Mantoux tuberculin skin test is performed by injecting a small amount of fluid (called tuberculin) into the skin in the lower part of the arm. A person given the tuberculin skin test must return within 48 to 72 hours to have a trained health care worker look for a reaction on the arm. The special tuberculosis blood test measures how the patient’s immune system reacts to the germs that cause tuberculosis.

What does a positive test for tuberculosis infection mean?
A positive test for tuberculosis infection only tells that a person has been infected with tuberculosis germs. It does not tell whether or not the person has progressed to tuberculosis disease. Other tests, such as a chest x-ray and a sample of sputum, are needed to see whether the person has tuberculosis disease.

What is Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG)?
BCG is a vaccine for tuberculosis disease. BCG is used in many countries, but it is not generally recommended in the United States. BCG vaccination does not completely prevent people from getting tuberculosis. It may also cause a false positive tuberculin skin test. However, persons who have been vaccinated with BCG can be given a tuberculin skin test or special tuberculosis blood test.

Why is latent tuberculosis infection treated?
If you have latent tuberculosis infection but not tuberculosis disease, your doctor may want you to take a drug to kill the tuberculosis germs and prevent you from developing tuberculosis disease. The decision about taking treatment for latent infection will be based on your chances of developing tuberculosis disease. Some people are more likely than others to develop tuberculosis disease once they have tuberculosis infection. This includes people with HIV infection, people who were recently exposed to someone with tuberculosis disease, and people with certain medical conditions.

How is tuberculosis disease treated?
Tuberculosis disease can be treated by taking several drugs for 6 to 12 months. It is very important that people who have tuberculosis 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. tuberculosis 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 tuberculosis 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.

This information was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, Division of Tuberculosis Elimination.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, Division of Tuberculosis Elimination. Tuberculosis: General Information. Available at: Accessed February 4, 2014.

The information in this document is for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for personalized professional advice. Although the information was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, MedLink Corporation, its representatives, and the providers of the information do not guarantee its accuracy and disclaim responsibility for adverse consequences resulting from its use. For further information, consult a physician and the organization referred to herein.

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