About Tuberculosis (TB)

Tuberculosis Treatment

Tuberculosis (TB) is a Bacterial Infection

TB is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Most people who develop TB will have it in their lungs, but the TB bacteria can attack any part of the body.

TB Isn't Easily Spread

A person must spend a lot of time or have close contact with a person with TB to become infected. TB bacteria spreads from one person to another through the air when a person with active TB:

  • Coughs
  • Speaks
  • Laughs
  • Sings

Others nearby may then breathe in these bacteria and become infected.

TB Has Two Stages - Latent and Active

All people infected with TB will experience latent TB infection, but only some people infected with TB will develop active TB disease. People are at highest risk of developing active TB disease when they:

  • Have been recently infected with the TB bacteria
  • Have a medical condition that weakens their immune system such as HIV infection, diabetes mellitus, severe kidney disease, low body weight, head and neck cancer, or solid organ transplants
  • Are using corticosteroids or other medications that weaken the immune system (examples include medications and therapies for treating rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease or certain cancers)

A person with latent TB infection:

  • Has TB bacteria but is not sick
  • Isn’t contagious to others
  • Is advised to get treatment to prevent the development of TB disease

Active TB occurs when a person’s immune system is unable to prevent the development of the disease. A person with active TB disease:

  • Has TB bacteria and is sick
  • Can be infectious to others and can spread TB bacteria by coughing, sneezing, laughing, shouting or singing
  • Must get treatment to prevent the illness from progressing

Active TB Disease Symptoms

  • Cough lasting for three weeks or more
  • Fever
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Coughing up blood

Special thanks to Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department for adaptation of materials.