Tuberculosis (TB) is an infection. It may be either active or latent. Active TB infection is most common in the lungs, but it can occur in other places in the body. People with latent TB are infected but do not have the disease.
TB is caused by a specific bacterium. It is easily spread between people. The bacteria travels through the air in droplets from a person with an active TB infection. The droplets are released with coughs, sneezes, or talking. The bacteria in the droplets can be breathed in by other people.
Pathway to the Lungs
is inhaled through the mouth and nose, and travels down into the lungs causing TB.
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Babies, young children, and older adults are more likely to get TB when exposed.
Other things that may raise the risk of TB exposure are:
- Close contact with a person with active TB
- Living or traveling to an area where TB rates are high
- Working in certain jobs, such as farming, funeral homes, and healthcare
- Living or working in crowded, indoor conditions, such as prisons, hospitals, homeless shelters, or nursing homes
Things that may raise the risk of active TB are:
- TB bacteria infection in the last two years
Chronic diseases that weaken the immune system, such as HIV
- Taking medicine that weakens or suppresses the immune system, such as chemotherapy drugs or organ transplant anti-rejection medicine
- Smoking or exposure to second hand smoke
or substance use disorder
Active TB may cause:
- Night sweats
- Weakness or fatigue
- Weight loss
- Lack of hunger
- Pain in the chest
that lasts more than 2 to 3 weeks
- Coughing up blood and mucus
Active TB may be found during a routine check-up. You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked about your TB exposure. A physical exam will be done.
These tests will be done to look for signs of infection:
These tests may be done to rule out active TB:
- Chest x-ray
to look for changes caused by TB
- Samples of sputum
to look for the bacteria
The infection will need to be treated. This can be done with a combination of medicines. Treatment often lasts 6 months or longer. All the medicine must be finished to prevent drug-resistant TB.
Someone with active TB can easily spread the infection to others. This can be prevented by staying home and avoiding contact with others.
To lower the risk of TB:
Avoid contact with people who have active TB.
- Limit travel to areas with high rates of TB.
Chee CBE, Reves R, et al. Latent tuberculosis infection: Opportunities and challenges. Respirology. 2018 Oct;23(10):893-900.
Pulmonary tuberculosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/pulmonary-tuberculosis-27. Accessed October 13, 2020.
Tuberculosis (TB). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/tb/topic/basics/default.htm. Accessed October 13, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 10/13/2020