December 8, 2022

March 24 is World TB Day, a day to raise awareness about how TB impacts us here in the United States and throughout the world.

TB is a complicated and sometimes confusing disease. This article will answer many common questions about TB.What is TB?

TB is a disease caused by a bacteria (germ) called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB is a serious disease but it can be cured with the right medicine.

TB germs usually attack the lungs. But TB germs can also attack other parts of the body, including the brain, bones, kidneys, throat, and lymph nodes.

There are two phases of TB: latent TB infection and active TB disease. Both phases can be treated with medicine.

What is latent TB infection?

Most of the time when TB germs get into a person’s lungs, the body makes the TB germs “go to sleep” by building a wall around them. This is called latent TB infection.

People with latent TB infection can take medicine to kill the TB germs before they “wake up” and cause active TB disease. If these people don’t take medicine, they have about a 1 in 10 chance (10 percent) of getting active TB disease.

What is active TB disease?

Sometimes the TB germs “wake up” and the wall around them breaks. The germs keep growing, spreading, and causing damage to the body until the right medicine is taken.

This is called active TB disease.

People with active TB disease can get very sick and spread TB germs to others. Symptoms of active TB disease include a cough that lasts three weeks or more, coughing up blood, pain in the chest, weight loss, fever, chills, night sweats, or being very tired for no reason. People with active TB disease must take the right medicine to get well.

Anyone can get sick with TB, but elders, young children, and people with diabetes, HIV, cancer, and other health problems are more likely to get active TB disease than other people. People who live with someone with active TB disease also are more likely to get active TB disease.

How does someone get TB?

TB is spread through the air. When someone with active TB disease in their lungs coughs, sneezes, or talks, TB germs can get into the air. Other people close to them can then breathe the TB germs into their lungs. Only people with active TB disease in their lungs can spread TB germs.

A person with active TB disease is most likely to spread TB germs to people who spend a lot of time near them. You can’t get TB from shaking hands, hugging, sharing food, towels, or other objects, or quick, casual contact, like passing someone on the street.

Who gets TB?

Anyone can get TB because TB is spread through the air. About 2 billion people (or one-third of the people living in the world) have latent TB infection. About 8 million people get active TB disease every year and 2 million people die from TB every year.

Although people with TB live all over the world, it is most common in Asia, Africa, and Mexico, Central and South America.

Do people in Minnesota get TB?

Yes. Each year, about 200 people are diagnosed with active TB disease. Most of these people were born outside of the United States in countries where TB is a common disease. Minnesota’s county and state public health agencies work together to help people with TB get well. Medicine for TB is free of cost to anyone who lives in Minnesota.

What can I do to protect myself and my family?

You should talk to your doctor about getting tested for TB if you were born in, or spent a lot of time in, parts of the world where TB is common. A map showing the rates of TB throughout the world can be found at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2010/chapter-5/tuberculosis.aspx.

Other people at high risk for TB are those who have spent time with someone who had active TB disease, have HIV infection or other conditions that weaken their immune system, or who inject illegal drugs.

If you have been coughing for three weeks or more, are coughing up blood, have pain in your chest, weight loss, fever, chills, night sweats, or are very tired for no reason, contact your doctor right away.

If you have latent TB infection or active TB disease, you can protect your family and your community by faithfully taking the medicine prescribed by your doctor.

For more information contact your doctor or healthcare provider.

The Minnesota Department of Health has fact sheets about TB in English and 13 other languages including Amharic, Arabic, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Hmong, KaRen, Khmer, Laotian, Oromo, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tibetan, and Vietnamese. Fact sheets are available at www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/tb/brochures.html.

What Is the Difference Between Latent TB Infection and Active TB Disease?

Latent TB Infection: TB germs are dormant (asleep) in your body. This phase can last for a very long time – even decades.

Active TB Disease: TB germs are reproducing and spreading in your body, causing tissue damage.

You don’t look or feel sick. Your chest x-ray usually is normal.

You usually feel sick. Typical symptoms include: cough lasting >3 weeks, weight loss, night sweats, and fever. A chest x-ray and other tests are needed to diagnose TB disease.

You can’t spread TB to other people.

If the TB germs are in your lungs or voicebox, you may spread TB to other people by coughing, sneezing, talking, or singing.

Usually treated by taking one medicine for nine months.

Treated by taking three or four medicines for at least six  months.

This article was contributed by the Refugee Health Program and TB Prevention and Control Program at the MN Department of Health as part of an ongoing series of health education articles for refugee communities.

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