What is tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious infection caused by bacteria. It usually occurs in the lungs, but it can spread to other parts of the body. TB spreads to other people through the air. When someone with TB breathes out or coughs, the bacteria can be breathed in by people who are nearby. You should not go to work or school while you can infect other people.
If you live with other people, ask them to be tested for TB. A positive tuberculin skin test means that the person needs treatment to prevent TB.
What are the symptoms of tuberculosis (TB)?
Symptoms of active TB may include a cough that brings up a thick mucus, tiredness, weight loss, fever, a fast heartbeat, or swelling in the neck. In rare cases, you may have shortness of breath and chest pain.
People with latent TB don't have symptoms.
How can you help prevent tuberculosis (TB)?
TB in the lungs is spread very easily. To avoid getting TB:
- Don't spend long periods of time in a stuffy, closed room with someone who has active TB until that person has been treated for at least 2 weeks.
- Use measures to protect yourself, if you work somewhere that cares for people who have untreated TB. An example is wearing a face mask. Face masks must be certified by the CDC and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
- If you live with someone who has active TB, help the person follow treatment instructions.
The TB vaccine
A TB vaccine is used in parts of the world where the risk of getting TB is higher. But it's almost never used in the United States.
How is tuberculosis (TB) treated?
TB is treated with antibiotics to kill the TB bacteria. How many antibiotics are used and how long you'll take them may depend on whether you have active or latent TB. TB can only be cured if you take all the doses of your medicine.
It’s very important to take your medicines as your doctor tells you to. It takes a long time to kill the TB bacteria. Treatment can last 4 to 9 months or longer. During your treatment you’ll see your doctor for tests to see how the medicines are working. Your doctor will help guide you through this long process.
You may have directly observed therapy (DOT). DOT ensures that you’ll take the needed medicine on schedule. That’s the best way to ensure you will be cured of TB. A public health official may be involved with your care.
You will start to feel better after taking your medicine for a few weeks. And you may not be able to infect others at this point. But don’t go back to work or school until your doctor tells you it’s okay.
How can you care for yourself when you have tuberculosis (active TB)?
Take your antibiotics as directed. Don't stop taking them just because you feel better. Take your medicine with food to help avoid an upset stomach. Avoid spreading TB by covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough. After coughing, throw the tissue away in a covered container.