Tuberculosis

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Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease that damages people’s lungs or other parts of the body and can cause serious illness and death. TB is caused by the bacterium (germ) Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

How tuberculosis is spread

TB is spread through the air when a person with active TB disease spreads the bacteria by coughing, sneezing, shouting, speaking or singing and other people nearby breathe in the bacteria.

The difference between active and latent TB disease

People infected with TB bacteria may not get sick because their bodies are able to fight off the infection. This is called latent or inactive TB, and is not infectious.

People who are infected with the TB bacteria that multiplies and grows where the immune system is not able to fight off the bacteria are said to have active TB. These people will have symptoms and are infectious.

High-risk groups of tuberculosis

You are most at risk if you:

  • Have been recently infected with TB bacteria, including people who work close to someone with active TB, who live in countries where there is a lot of TB, and young children.
  • Have a medical condition that weakens your immune system, like HIV or AIDS, diabetes and some cancers.


Tuberculosis symptoms

People with TB can:

  • feel tired and unwell
  • have a bad cough that last at least three weeks
  • lose weight
  • have a fever and sweat in bed at night
  • cough up blood in the sputum
  • chest pains
  • swollen lymph glands.

Glossary of TB terms


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