Tuberculosis (TB) - Topic Overview
Tuberculosis (TB) is an
infection caused by slow-growing bacteria that grow best in areas of the body
that have lots of blood and oxygen. That's why it is most often found in the
lungs. This is called pulmonary TB. But TB can also
spread to other parts of the body, which is called
extrapulmonary TB. Treatment is often a success, but
it is a long process. It usually takes about 6 to 9 months to treat TB. But some TB infections need to be treated for up to 2 years.
Tuberculosis is either latent or active.
- Latent TB means that
you have the TB bacteria in your body, but your body's defenses (immune system)
are keeping it from turning into active TB. This means that you don't have any
symptoms of TB right now and can't spread the disease to others. If you have
latent TB, it can become active TB.
- Active TB means that the TB bacteria are
growing and causing symptoms. If your lungs are infected with active TB, it is
easy to spread the disease to others.
Pulmonary TB (in the
lungs) is contagious. It spreads when a person who has active TB breathes out
air that has the TB bacteria in it and then another person breathes in the
bacteria from the air. An infected person releases even more bacteria when he
or she does things like cough or laugh.
If TB is only in other
parts of the body (extrapulmonary TB), it does not spread easily to
Some people are more
likely than others to get TB. This includes people who:
HIV or another illness that weakens the immune
- Have close contact with someone who has active TB, such as
living in the same house as someone who is infected with TB.
for a patient who has active TB, such as doctors or nurses.
or work in crowded places, such as prisons, nursing homes, or homeless shelters,
where other people may have active TB.
- Have poor access to health
care, such as homeless people and migrant farm workers.
- Abuse drugs
- Travel to or were born in places where untreated TB is
common, such as Latin America, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia.
It is important for people who are at a high risk for
getting TB to get tested once or twice every year.
Most of the time when
people are first infected with TB, the disease is so mild that they don't even
know they have it. People with
latent TB don't have symptoms unless the disease
Symptoms of active TB may include:
- A cough that brings up thick, cloudy, and sometimes bloody
mucus from the lungs (called
sputum) for more than 2 weeks.
and weight loss.
- Night sweats and a fever.
- A rapid
- Swelling in the neck (when
lymph nodes in the neck are infected).
- Shortness of breath and chest pain (in rare cases).