What is Tuberculosis(TB)

Tuberculosis is a contagious bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. TB mostly attacks the lungs (pulmonary TB) but it can affect any organ in the body (Extra Pulmonary TB). TB affecting the other parts of the body is not as infectious as TB of the lungs.

Pulmonary TB is transmitted from a sick TB patient as a droplet infection through coughing, singing and sneezing. Inhalation of these droplets by an uninfected person may cause infection.  The risk of contracting TB increases with the frequency and duration of contact with people who have the disease.

The cardinal symptom of pulmonary TB is a cough lasting 2 weeks or more and 24hrs for HIV patients. Other symptoms are loss of weight, tiredness, night sweats, chest pain and cough with blood stained sputum.

How TB Spreads

TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.

TB is NOT spread by

  • Shaking someone’s hand
  • Sharing food or drink
  • Touching bed linens or toilet seats
  • Sharing toothbrushes
  • Kissing

Latent TB Infection and TB Disease

Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. As a result, two TB-related conditions exist: latent TB infection and TB disease.

Latent TB Infection

TB bacteria can live in the body without making you sick. This is called latent TB infection. In most people who breathe in TB bacteria and become infected, the body is able to fight the bacteria to stop them from growing. People with latent TB infection do not feel sick and do not have any symptoms. People with latent TB infection are not infectious and cannot spread TB bacteria to others. However, if TB bacteria become active in the body and multiply, the person will go from having latent TB infection to being sick with TB disease.

TB Disease

TB bacteria become active if the immune system can't stop them from growing. When TB bacteria are active (multiplying in your body), this is called TB disease. People with TB disease are sick. They may also be able to spread the bacteria to people they spend time with every day.

Many people who have latent TB infection never develop TB disease. Some people develop TB disease soon after becoming infected (within weeks) before their immune system can fight the TB bacteria. Other people may get sick years later when their immune system becomes weak for another reason.

For people whose immune systems are weak, especially those with HIV infection and diabeties, the risk of developing TB disease is much higher than for people with normal immune systems.