Tuberculosis or TB is a disease caused by bacteria (germ – mycobacterium tuberculosis) that is spread through the air that can infect your body. The lung is most commonly infected. Sometimes the germ may spread from the lung to other parts of the body.
It 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
- The germs can stay in the body and rest. The person is not sick, but may get sick later on.
- The person cannot pass these germs to others.
- It can be treated with special antibiotics to stop TB germs from waking up and causing sickness.
- If the germs wake up, the person can get sick with active TB disease.
- Someone with active TB disease will have symptoms.
- They can spread TB to others when they have not been treated with the right antibiotic medications yet.
Symptoms of Active TB sickness
- Coughing for more than 2 weeks
- Cough with mucus/phlegm or blood
- 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
You should visit a health clinic if you have any of the above symptoms.
You may be at risk if you have lived or spent a lot of time with someone with TB.
TB is spread through the air when a person with active TB in their lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, spits, speaks, sings or share bongs. If other people nearby breathe in the bacteria, they can catch TB.
People with active TB in other parts of their body and Latent TB cannot spread the germ to others.
You do not catch TB from sharing other people’s cups, plates, clothes or bed linen. Also TB is not spread by kissing, cuddling or hugging.
People at higher risk of getting TB
Some people are more likely to get active TB sickness:
- 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)
It is important to see a doctor who may request some tests to see if you have active TB. Having an early checkup will help start the treatment early and reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others.
Testing for TB
If your doctor thinks you have TB, tests will be done to diagnose TB besides a medical history and physical examination.
- A chest X-ray shows if TB bacteria have affected the lungs.
- A sputum test shows if TB bacteria are present in the coughed up sputum.
- A blood test show if TB bacteria was ever present in the body and can also check current infection.
- A tuberculin skin test may be done before vaccinating with BCG or to check if TB bacteria was ever present in the body.
TB is treated with three or four antibiotics taken together for 6 months. The length of treatment can vary for each person. A properly taken TB treatment can cure a person completely from TB.
If you have TB or other respiratory infections, keep your family and others healthy. Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing and wash hands. Don’t spit near other people.
Young children can have BCG vaccine to protect them from severe forms of TB.
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 living in areas affected with TB in South Australia.
Useful links for further information about the BCG vaccine:
- BCG vaccination information sheet (PDF 123KB)
- BCG vaccination request form (PDF 144KB)
- BCG vaccination aftercare information sheet (PDF 225KB)