Tuberculosis

Questions & Answers about Tuberculosis

What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis, commonly called TB, is an infectious disease caused by bacteria, which usually affects the lungs (pulmonary TB). Other parts of the body can also be affected, for example lymph nodes, bones, joints, etc.

How is TB spread?

TB is spread through the air when a person with untreated pulmonary TB coughs, sneezes, laughs or sings. TB germs get into the air and can remain there for several hours. People who are living, working or spending a lot of time sharing the same air space with that person may breathe in these germs and get infected. People at highest risk of becoming infected are close contacts - those individuals who have prolonged, frequent, or intense contact with a person with infectious tuberculosis.

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What are the symptoms of TB?

The symptoms of TB may include a low-grade fever, night sweats, fatigue, and rapid weight loss (over a few weeks or months). Individuals with TB of the lungs may have a persistent cough, chest pain, or may cough up blood. Other symptoms depend on the particular part of the body that is affected.

What is the difference between TB disease and latent TB infection (LTBI)?

People with TB disease are sick from bacteria that are active in their body. They usually have one or more of the symptoms of TB, and are often able to give the infection to others.

When people have the bacteria in their body, but are not sick because the germs are inactive, they have what is called “Latent TB.” These people do not have any obvious symptoms and cannot spread the infection to others. However, people with latent TB may develop active TB disease in the future.

Who gets TB?

Anyone can get TB, but some people are at higher risk. Those at higher risk include people with certain conditions such as weakened immune systems. Also, people who live in crowded conditions, were born in countries where a lot of people have TB, or are heavy alcohol or drug users are at higher risk. Most people infected with the germ that causes TB never develop active TB. If active TB does develop, it can occur two to three months after infection or years later. The risk of developing active disease lessens as time passes.

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How soon do symptoms occur?

Most people infected with the germ that causes TB never develop active TB. If active TB does develop, it can occur two to three months after infection or years later. The risk of developing active disease lessens as time passes.

How long is a person able to spread TB?

A person with TB disease may remain contagious until he/she has been on appropriate treatment for several weeks.

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What is the treatment for TB?

People with active TB disease must complete a course of treatment for six months or more. Treatment includes several anti-TB drugs and may change depending on laboratory test results. People with latent TB infection can be given medicine for 6 to 9 months to prevent the infection from becoming disease.

What if a person doesn't finish all of the TB medicine?

If patients don’t take all the medicine the way they are supposed to, they can become sick again and spread TB to others. Also, when patients don’t take all the drugs, or skip doses, the TB bacteria can learn to outwit the antibiotics. If this happen, those medications won’t work against the disease and the patient has resistant TB, which is much more difficult to cure.

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What if a person is not treated for tuberculosis disease?

In addition to spreading the disease to others, a person with active TB that is not treated may become severely ill and die.

What can be done to stop the spread of TB?

The most important way to stop the spread of tuberculosis is for patients who have active TB to cover their mouth and nose when coughing, and to take all the TB medicine exactly as ordered by the doctor.

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Patient & General Public Information

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Resources for Health Care Providers

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Contact Department of Health

Call the Vermont Department of Health, Epidemiology Field Unit, 1-800-640-6374 or 863-7240.

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