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TB - Frequently Asked Questions

Hurricane Katrina displaced people who were receiving treatment for tuberculosis before evacuation should call 713-794-9078 to make arrangements to resume treatment.

What is TB?
Tuberculosis, or TB, is a disease caused by a germ (called the tubercle bacterium or Mycobacterium tuberculosis). TB usually affects the lungs, but can affect other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes (glands), the bones and (rarely) the brain. Infection with the TB germ may not develop into TB disease.

What are the symptoms?
TB disease develops slowly in the body, and it usually takes several months for symptoms to appear.

Any of the following symptoms may suggest TB:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats\
  • Persistent cough (productive or non-productive)
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Feeling fatigued/very tired
  • Blood in your sputum (phlegm or spit)

How do you catch it?
The TB germ is usually spread in the air. It is caught from another person who has TB of the lungs. The germ gets into the air when that person coughs or sneezes.
But only some people with TB in the lungs are infectious to other people. Even then, you need close and prolonged contact with them to be at risk of being infected. Sputum smear positive cases stop being infectious after a couple of weeks of treatment.

Can anyone get it?
Anyone can get TB. But it is difficult to catch. You are most at risk if someone living in the same house as you catches the disease, or a close friend has the disease.
The following people have a greater chance of becoming ill with TB if exposed to it:

  • Those in very close contact with infectious people who have TB
  • Children
  • Elderly people
  • Diabetics
  • People on steroids
  • People on other drugs affecting the body’s defense system
  • People who are HIV-positive
  • People in overcrowded, poor housing
  • People who are dependent on drugs or alcohol
  • People with chronic poor health

How is TB treated?
For many years now, we have had good medication to treat TB. You have to take the medication regularly (usually pills) for six to twelve months. TB can be cured and TB can be prevented.

Treatment is vital. If you have TB disease, or if you have been infected with the germ but have not yet developed TB, you must take the medication as directed. It is very important to complete the full course of treatment, as it will stop you from being infectious, and it will remove the risk of you developing drug-resistant TB.

What if I have been in contact with someone with TB?
Close contacts may be at risk of catching TB. A health care worker can arrange a skin test and/or chest x-ray. This does not mean that you have TB, but it is a chance to check for any symptoms. People who have been in treatment for TB for two or more weeks are generally not infectious.

Can TB be prevented?
Yes it can, in several ways:

Treating all people with TB disease. People with infectious TB disease in their lungs can pass the germ to other people until they have started treatment. After about two weeks of treatment, they are no longer infectious to other people.

Ensuring that all close contacts of people with TB are seen promptly by a doctor. If we detect infection with TB early, we can start treatment to prevent TB disease from developing. Some people in high risk groups for acquiring TB after close contact may be offered a course of preventive therapy (chemoprophylaxis) if they have no clinical or radiological evidence of active TB. Close contacts of a non-infectious case may not be seen at all.

What is the difference between TB disease and 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. The bacteria become inactive, but they remain alive in the body and can become active later. This is called TB infection.
People with TB infection:

  • Have no symptoms · Don't feel sick
  • Can’t spread TB to others
  • Usually have a positive skin test reaction
  • Have a normal chest x-ray
  • Can develop TB disease later in life

Most people who have TB infection will never develop TB disease. In these people, the TB bacteria remain inactive for a lifetime without causing disease. But in other people (for example, those who have weak immune systems), the bacteria may become active and cause TB disease later in their life time.