What is Tuberculosis? (TB)
TB is a disease caused by bacteria that can affect any part of the body but most often the lungs.
What are the symptoms?
- Cough – prolonged which does not resolve after 2-3 weeks
- Sputum (spit) which may be blood stained
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Fever/sweating – especially at night
- Sometimes chest pain/tightness
- Sometimes lumps in the neck or swelling of the joints
- Tiredness/ general malaise
Can TB be cured?
Yes TB can be cured. A course of at least 6 months of antibiotics is required.
How long do people remain infectious once they start treatment?
Usually after 2 weeks of treatment people are no longer infectious.
How is TB spread?
From person to person by airborne secretions and droplets (e.g. from coughing). The bacteria are released into the air when a person with symptomatic TB of the lungs, coughs or sneezes. If inhaled, TB bacteria are usually destroyed by your body’s defence system. However sometimes the bacteria can avoid this normal defence mechanism and cause illness.
Can TB bacteria be passed on by sharing cups, cutlery, toys, towels etc.?
Is it infectious?
Not all types of TB are infectious. TB is not easy to catch if you are fit and healthy.
Pulmonary TB (infection of the lungs) can be infectious.
Close contact over a long period of time, with someone who has the infectious type of TB is needed to catch the disease. How infectious a person is depends on many factors including their symptoms, how many bacteria are present and the amount of time you have spent in close contact with the infected person.
Other types of TB that do not affect the lungs or the throat are not usually considered infectious.
Latent TB is not infectious and means the person has been exposed to TB bacteria previously and is now using their own immune system to fight off a mild infection.
What type of TB is infectious?
TB of the lungs is usually the only type of TB that is infectious. You can only catch TB from a person who has symptomatic TB and who is infectious.
Are close contacts of someone with TB infectious to others?
Close contacts that have no symptoms are considered to be non-infectious. However as a matter of routine they would be screened and treated if required.
Can anyone get TB?
Anyone can get TB but it is difficult to catch and requires prolonged close contact with an infectious person.
What if close contacts have symptoms?
They would be investigated as soon as possible to rule out TB and given treatment if required.
How are close contacts screened for TB?
The bacteria which cause TB grow very slowly and any changes may not be seen if screening is carried out too early.
The screening test carried out depends on a number of things such as the age of the individual and whether or not they have had a BCG vaccination. For example
- A person over the age of 35 who has had BCG vaccination may only require a chest x-ray, but if they have not had a BCG vaccination may require a skin test (mantoux).
- Anyone under the age of 35 will usually require a mantoux test and depending on whether they have had BCG vaccination may require to have a blood test also
If the skin test is positive the individual will be seen by a paediatrician or chest physician who will arrange further tests if necessary. These might include a chest x ray and a blood test.
The type of screening test offered to an individual is based on National guidance.
I want to know who the affected people are.
As I am sure you are aware this is a confidential matter and we cannot under any circumstances give you this information. I am sure that if you were the affected person or their parent you would want us to do the same.
Can TB be controlled and prevented?
Yes it can – in several ways.
- Early identification and treatment of cases.
- Ensuring all close contacts of people with TB of the lungs are screened and where appropriate treated.
- National BCG programme targeted at high risk individuals.
I have had my BCG vaccine, am I protected?
The vaccine gives around 70% protection against developing TB.
But I had BCG ages ago?
Most people over 21 years who grew up in Britain will have had BCG at school when aged around 13 years. BCG is recommended as a once only vaccination in this country. The national programme was changed from one for everyone to one for selected high risk groups only some years ago.
Can my baby have the BCG vaccine?
Most infections of children are likely to occur in household settings, there has been little evidence of TB transmission in schools in the UK.
Our household screening and nursery screening will identify any adults or children who may be more at risk because of the close contact with an active case. Infants born in future will not have an increased risk compared to the rest of the Highland population as all the active TB in the local community will have been identified and treated.
Health Protection Team NHS Highland May 2014