Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by a germ called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB usually affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, the kidneys, or the spine.
Not everyone who breathes in the TB germs becomes sick. As a result, there are two forms of TB: latent TB and active TB.
People with latent TB infection have TB germs in their body, but they are not sick because the germs are not active. These people do not have symptoms of TB disease, and they cannot spread the germs to others. They may develop TB disease in the future. They are often prescribed medication that will help prevent them from developing active TB in the future.
People with active TB disease are sick from TB germs that are multiplying (active) in the body. Symptoms of TB disease in the lungs may include coughing, chest pain, fever, weight loss and night sweats. People with TB disease of the lungs or throat are capable of spreading their germs to others through coughing, sneezing, singing etc. People with active TB are prescribed with medication to treat the disease.
|The TB germs aren’t growing.||TB germs are active and growing. The germs are causing damage to your body.|
|You don’t look or feel sick. Your chest x-ray is usually normal.||You feel sick (e.g. cough, chest pain, weight loss). Your health care provider will order special tests.|
|You can’t spread the germs to others.||If the TB germs are in your lungs you can spread them to other people when you cough, sneeze.|
|You can be treated by taking one medication.||You can be treated with many medications over a long period of time.|
TB is spread from person to person through the air. The TB germs are spread through the air when someone who is sick with active TB coughs, speaks, laughs, sings, or sneezes. Anyone near the sick person can breathe in the TB germs. This usually requires prolonged or repeated contact with the sick person.
If the TB disease is in your lungs, you may:
- Cough a lot
- Cough up mucous
- Cough up blood
- Have chest pain when you cough
- Feel weak
- Lose your appetite
- Lose weight
- Have a fever
- Sweat a lot at night
If you have TB disease in another part of your body, the symptoms will be different and depend on the area affected.
If you have been around someone who has active TB, you should talk to your health care provider about getting tested. People with active TB are most likely to spread the germs to people they spend a lot of time with every day, such as family members and co-workers.
A TB skin test is a simple way to find out if you have latent TB. A small needle will be used to place a small amount of liquid, called tuberculin, just under the skin on your forearm.
You must return to your health care provider 2 days after the test was given to have your arm checked, even if your arm looks okay to you. If you have a reaction to the test, it will look like a raised bump. The nurse will measure the size of the reaction. If there is a bump, it will go away in a few weeks.
A TB skin test is “positive” if there is a bump of a certain size where the fluid was placed. This means you might have TB germs in your body. Most people with a positive TB skin test have latent TB. To be sure, your health care provider will examine you and send you for a chest x-ray. You may also need other tests to see if you have active TB disease.
Latent TB – Medication may be prescribed to prevent you from getting sick with active TB. Learn more about treating Latent Tuberculosis.
Active TB – Treated with several medications that are often taken for 9-12 months or longer. It is very important that people who have active disease finish their medication and take it exactly as prescribed. If they stop taking the medicine too soon they can become sick again; if the medicine is not taken correctly, the germs that are still alive may become resistant to those drugs. TB that is resistant to drugs is harder and more expensive to treat.
NOTE: All medications for TB are free in Ontario. Your Health Care Provider can order these medications from Southwestern Public Health.