Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by a germ that is spread from person to person through the air. TB usually affects the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, the kidneys, or the spine. A person with active TB can die if they do not get treatment. The general symptoms include feelings of sickness or weakness, weight loss, fever, night sweats, coughing, chest pain and coughing of blood. It should be noted that symptoms of TB disease in other parts of the body depend on the affected area. TB germs are put into the air when a person with the disease coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings. These germs can stay in the air for several hours, depending on the environment. People who breathe in the air containing these TB germs can become infected. Those with the infection, but who have no symptoms, are considered to have "latent TB." 

Individual and Group Safety Information

People with latent TB infection have no symptoms, don't feel sick, can't spread TB to others, and usually have a positive skin test reaction. They may develop TB disease later in life if they do not receive treatment for latent TB infection. People cannot be infected by the TB germ through handshakes, sitting on toilet seats, or sharing dishes or utensils with someone who has TB.

Usually treatment with isoniazid for about nine months or rifampin for six months can prevent a latent TB infection from developing to active TB. Treatment is recommended for anyone who has a positive skin reaction and is especially important for people who:

  • May be infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
  • Have close contact with a person who has active TB.
  • Have a chest X-ray that suggests a TB infection, and they have not had a complete course of treatment.
  • Inject illegal drugs.
  • Have a medical condition or take medications that can weaken the immune system.
  • Had a negative TB skin test within the past two years, but now have a positive test.

Active tuberculosis is an infection that is spreading in a person's body and is very contagious. The World Health Organization estimates that one third of the world's population is infected with bacteria that cause TB.

The following are some suggestions to help avoid getting an active TB infection:

  • Do not spend a long period of time in stuffy, enclosed rooms with anyone who has active TB until that person has been treated for at least two weeks.
  • Use protective measures, such as face masks, if you work in a facility that cares for people who have untreated TB.
  • Increase ventilation in confined areas, especially if someone may have TB.
  • Ask your doctor how to prevent TB from spreading to others if you live with someone who has active TB. Help and encourage the person who has TB to follow the treatment instructions.