Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious infection that most commonly affects the lungs. It is spread through air droplets released when a person with active tuberculosis coughs or sneezes, similar to how a cold or the flu is spread. Different than the common cold or flu, the bacteria grows very slowly and is fairly difficult to catch, so you typically have to spend a lot of time around a person who has TB to catch it. People at most risk are very close contacts such as family members, co-workers, or very close friends.
Doctors make distinctions between two types of TB: Latent and Active.
- Latent TB is when the bacteria is present in the body in an inactive form. The person will not have symptoms and will not be contagious. About 10% of those with latent TB will go on to have an active TB infection.
- Active TB is when the bacteria is active and an individual will have all or some of the following symptoms. Cough for 3 more more weeks with fevers, night-sweats, weight loss and blood-tinged sputum.
You should see your healthcare provider if you have any of the above symptoms or have known contact with someone who has tuberculosis. TB is detected by a doctors evaluation followed by a skin test or a blood test and a chest xray. Higher risk individuals will be tested with microscopic examination and cultures of their sputum.
While difficult to treat, TB can be treated with a long course of antibiotics, so while it is a serious infection, the vast majority of patients will be completely cured!