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TB - info for the public

Tuberculosis (TB)

Tuberculosis or TB is a disease caused by bacteria (A germ called mycobacterium tuberculosis) that is spread through the air that can infect your body. The TB germ most commonly infects the lungs. The TB germ sometimes spreads from the lungs to other parts of the body.

TB germ can be passed between people, although it does not spread as quickly and easily as a virus like COVID-19 or the flu.

TB can be cured with medication. It is very important to take the full course of medication as prescribed.

There are 2 types of TB

‘Latent’ (sleeping) TB

  • In sleeping TB, also known as ‘latent TB’, the TB germ can stay in the body and rest. A person with sleeping TB is not sick while having the germ in their body. However, the person with sleeping TB may get sick later on.
  • The person with sleeping TB is not infectious so cannot pass these TB germs to others.
  • Sleeping TB can be treated with special antibiotics to stop TB germs from waking up and causing sickness.

Active TB

  • In a person affected by active TB, the TB germs wake up and the person can get sick with active TB disease.
  • Someone affected by active TB disease will have symptoms.
  • The person affected by active TB disease can spread TB germs to others when they have not been treated with the right antibiotic medications yet.

TB spread

You may be at risk of getting the TB germ if you have lived or spent a lot of time with someone who has active TB sickness.

TB is spread through the air when a person with active TB in their lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, spits, speaks, sings or shares bongs. If other people nearby breathe in the bacteria, they can catch the TB germ.

You do not catch TB from sharing other peoples cups, plates, clothes or bed linen. Also, the TB germ is not spread by kissing, cuddling or hugging.

Symptoms of active TB sickness

A person with active TB disease or sickness can have one or more of these symptoms:

  • Coughing for more than 2 weeks
  • Cough with phlegm or blood in phlegm
  • Chest pain
  • Fever, chills or sweats (mainly at night)
  • Loss of weight without trying to
  • Loss of appetite (not feeling hungry)
  • Always feeling tired
  • Lumps or swelling in the neck

TB symptoms can be different in younger children, they might not play as much as usual, and might not gain weight as expected.

You should visit a health clinic if you have any of the above symptoms of active TB disease or sickness.

Testing for TB

Having an early checkup will help start the treatment early and reduce the risk of spreading the germs to others.

 If you have symptoms of TB or have been in contact with someone with confirmed TB, discuss with the health clinic. If your doctor thinks you have TB, tests such as a chest x-ray and sputum test will be done to diagnose TB.

A chest X-ray shows if TB germs have affected the lungs.

A sputum test shows if TB germs are present in the coughed-up phlegm called sputum.

The type of tests can depend on whether you have active TB or sleeping TB.

People at high risk

Some people are at high risk and are more likely to get very unwell with TB such as:

  • Young children
  • Older people
  • People with weakened immune systems like people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, HIV
  • People who are taking medications that lower the immune system
  • People with severe malnourishment (lack of proper nutrition)

TB treatment

TB is treated with a combination of antibiotics taken together for several months. The length of treatment for TB can vary for each person. A properly taken TB treatment can cure a person completely from TB.

TB prevention

Keep your family and others healthy by covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing and wash your hands. Don’t spit near other people. If you have any symptoms, having an early checkup for TB sickness will help start the treatment early and reduce the risk of spreading the germs to others.

Young children can have BCG vaccine to protect them from severe forms of TB. 

Sleeping TB: A person who has sleeping (latent) TB will not feel sick or know that they have it after being exposed to the TB germs. However, the germs can wake up in the future and cause active TB sickness. Sleeping TB can be treated with medication and prevent future illness.

SA Health TB Services may arrange a checkup to find out if a person has sleeping TB. This checkup may be done if the person has had contact with someone who has active TB, or if the person lives in a community where there are active cases of TB. The checkup may involve having a blood tests, chest x ray and skin test.

Bacille Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine

The vaccine for tuberculosis ­is called the Bacille Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine. It does not prevent you from getting the TB germ, but it helps prevent severe or life-threatening TB disease, especially in young children.

BCG vaccination is now part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule for Aboriginal children under five years of age living in the APY Lands in South Australia.

A TB skin test (also known as tuberculin or Mantoux) may be done before vaccinating with BCG.

You can find more information at the SA Health website