Q: What is TB?

A: TB, or tuberculosis, is a disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria can attack any part of your body, but they ususally attack the lungs. TB disease was once the leading cause of death in the United States.

Q: How is TB spread?

A: TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs or sneezes. People nearby may breath in these bacteria and become infected.

Q: What is latent TB infection?

A: 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 latent TB infection.

Q: What are the symptoms of latent TB infection?

A: People with latent TB infection:

  • Have no symptoms
  • Don't feel sick
  • Can't spread TB to others
  • Usually have a positive skin test reaction
  • Can develop TB disease later in life if they do not receive treatment for latent TB infection

Q: What is TB disease?

A: TB bacteria become active if the immune system can't stop them from growing. The active bacteria begin to multiply in the body and cause TB disease. Some people develop TB disease soon after becoming infected, before their immune system can fight the TB bacteria. Other people may get sick later, when their immune system becomes weak for some reason.

Q: What are the symptoms of TB disease?

A: Symptoms of TB depend on where in the body the TB bacteria are growing. TB bacteria usually grow in the lungs. TB in the lungs may cause:

  • A bad cough that lasts longer than 2 weeks
  • Pain in the chest
  • Coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lungs)
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • No appetite
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Sweating at night

Q: How can I get tested for TB?

A: A TB skin test is the only way to find out if you have latent TB infection.

Q: Where can I get a skin test for TB?

A: You can get a skin test at the Health Department or at your doctor's office.

Q: When should I get tested for TB?

A: You should get tested for TB when:

  • You have spent time with a person with known or suspected TB disease
  • You have HIV infection or another condition that puts you at high risk for TB disease
  • You think you might have TB disease
  • You are from a country where TB disease is very common (most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Easter Europe, and Russia)
  • You inject drugs
  • You live somewhere in the United States where TB disease is more common (homeless shelters, migrant farm camps, prisons and jails, and some nursing homes)

Q: How is the test done?

A: A health care worker will give you the TB skin test by injecting a small amount of testing fluid (called tuberculin) just under the skin on the lower part of your arm.

Q: What happens after the test?

A: After 2 or 3 days, you will have to return to the facility where you had the test. The health care worker will measure your reaction to the test. You may have a small bump where the tuberculin was injected; the health care worker will measure the bump and tell you if your reaction to the test is positive or negative.

Q: What if my reaction from the test turns out to be positive?

A: A positive reaction usually means that you have latent TB infection. Your health care provider may then do other tests to see if you have TB disease.

Q: What additional tests will I have to get if I have a positive reaction to the skin test?

A: If you have a positive reaction to the skin test, your health care provider may do tests to include a chest x-ray and test the phlegm you cough up. In addition, your blood or urine may be tested, among other tests.

Q: How many people are infected with TB?

A: One-third of the world's population is infected with TB.

Q: How many people get sick with TB?

A: Each year, 9 million people around the world become sick with TB.

Q: How many deaths are associated with TB?

A: Every year, there are over 2 million TB-related deaths worldwide.

Q: Is there a disparity of TB among black and whites?

A: The rate of TB in black, non-Hispanic persons, is 11.6 cases per 100,000 population, which is 8.3 times higher than the rate of TB in white, non-Hispanic persons (1.4 cases per 100,000 population).
Although rates of TB in both blacks and whites have declined substantially over the past decade, the disparity remains.

Q: How is TB disease treated?

A: The most common drugs used to fight TB are:

  • Isoniazid (INH)
  • Rifampin
  • Pyrazinamide
  • Ethambutol
  • Streptomycin

When medicine is taken as instructed, TB disease can almost always be cured.

Q: How can I keep from spreading TB?

A: The most important way to keep from spreading TB is to take all your medicine, exactly as directed.