Tuberculosis — also known as TB or, back in the day, “consumption — is an infection that primarily affects the lungs. (It can also impact the brain, kidneys, spine, and other parts of the body, but the lungs are really the big one.)
TB is treatable and not everyone who becomes infected with it gets sick. That’s because there are two types of TB: latent TB infection, which is when the germs aren’t active or contagious (LTBI); and TB, when the germs are active and contagious in the body.
Learn more about TB by watching the CDC’s “5 Things to Know About TB.”
EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT TB
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LATENT TB AND TB DISEASE?
At a basic level, people with a latent TB infection carry the virus, but don’t have any symptoms and can’t spread it to other people. On the other hand, people with TB disease do show symptoms, can spread it to other people, and usually have the disease in their lungs or throat.
CAN LATENT TB BECOME TB DISEASE?
Yup! If left untreated, latent TB can evolve into TB disease.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF TB?
A person with a latent TB infection won’t show any symptoms. But a person with TB disease definitely will.
Symptoms of active TB in the lungs include a thick, mucus cough over a few weeks, fever, chills, night sweats, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, and shortness of breath.
HOW DOES TB SPREAD?
First things first: It’s not easy to get infected with TB. Usually you have to be around someone with TB disease for a long time, like an infected family member you’re taking care of. So while the way it spreads kind of makes it sounds like it’s easy to get infected, it’s not.
TB spreads through air when a person infected with TB disease coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. When that happens, the germs can stay in the air for several hours. Then, if you breathe in that air — over a period of time — you can get infected. Family members, friends, coworkers, classmates, and other people who are closest to the infected person are more likely to catch it. People who have compromised immune systems — like those living with HIV or those receiving chemotherapy — and kids under the age of five are at a higher risk of catching TB.
TB is not spread by shaking someone’s hand, sharing food or drink, touching bed linens or toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes, or kissing.
IS THERE A VACCINE FOR TB?
There is a vaccine for TB! It’s not routinely recommended for everyone but it is for children whose caregivers have TB, health care workers, and for people doing certain work (like hospital or relief work) in certain countries.
HOW COMMON IS TB?
TB is not very common in the United States. It’s most common in people who were born in countries that have higher TB rates and in people who travel to those countries. You can find more information about how common TB is on the CDC’s informational TB page.
SHOULD I GET TESTED FOR TB?
You don’t need to get tested for TB if you’ve spent time with someone with a latent TB infection. A person who has latent TB infection has TB germs in their bodies, but they can’t spread germs to other people. But if you spend time with someone who has TB disease, you should get tested. Get tested for TB at the DC Department of Health, with your doctor or at a clinic.
HOW IS TB TREATED?
Latent TB is treated using four different drugs, and treatment helps keep it from developing into TB disease. TB disease is treated by several drugs over the course of six to nine months. Visit the CDC for more information about treatment and TB elimination.