Tuberculosis Prevention: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on December 08, 2022
2 min read

It may sound like a disease of the past, but tuberculosis, or TB, is still a real concern today. And as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In other words, the best way to be well is to avoid getting sick in the first place.

A person who has the active disease in their lungs can spread it through the air. “Active” means the TB germs are multiplying and spreading in your body. If you’re in close contact with someone who has it, you can get it. That’s why doctors advise those who have active TB disease to stay home and away from other people as much as possible, until they’re no longer infectious.

If you have active TB disease, you must get treated right away. This might involve taking a number of medications for 6 to 12 months. It’s important to take all of your meds, as they’re prescribed, the entire time -- even if you feel better. If not, you can get sick again.

If you have TB germs in your body but they haven’t become active, you have what doctors call “latent TB.” You can’t spread the disease to others. But your doctor may still recommend that you take medications to keep the germs from becoming active.

Follow these other tips to help prevent others from getting TB during your first few weeks of treatment, or until your doctor says you’re no longer contagious:

  • Take all of your medicines as they’re prescribed, until your doctor takes you off them.
  • Keep all your doctor appointments.
  • Always cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Seal the tissue in a plastic bag, then throw it away.
  • Wash your hands after coughing or sneezing.
  • Don’t visit other people and don’t invite them to visit you.
  • Stay home from work, school, or other public places.
  • Use a fan or open windows to move around fresh air.
  • Don’t use public transportation.

In countries with high rates of TB infection, infants are often given the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccine, or BCG. Doctors in the U.S. don’t generally recommend it because TB isn’t a widespread problem here.

Still, health care workers who spend a lot of time around TB patients might benefit from the vaccine. Doctors make that decision based on the health care worker and their unique circumstances.