Tuberculosis: Protect Yourself

Tuberculosis: Protect Yourself

Tuberculosis (abbreviated as TB) is one of the deadliest diseases in the world.  According to the CDC, about 1/3 of the world’s population is infected with the bacteria that causes TB.

Most people infected with TB don’t have any symptoms.  People who do not have any symptoms of TB cannot spread the TB bacteria to others.  Those people still need to be treated with antibiotics, because they may develop the symptoms of TB disease later on.  Symptoms of TB disease include a cough (which may include blood-tinged sputum), fever, night sweats, weight loss, and chest pain.

The best way to protect yourself against TB is to avoid people who are actively coughing, and to wash your hands frequently.  Brief or distant exposure to TB, or exposure to someone who does not have a cough, rarely leads to infection.  It typically takes lengthy contact (being in the same space with a person who is actively coughing for a few hours over a period of several days).  

If you think that you may have been exposed to someone with the symptoms of TB disease, or you think that you may have some of the symptoms of TB disease, then it is important that you see your physician to be tested for TB.  Your doctor may perform a skin test by injecting a small amount of fluid under the skin of your lower arm, or a blood test to see if you have been infected with the bacteria that causes TB.

The CDC recommends that the following people should be tested for TB:  

  • “You have spent time with a person known to have TB disease or suspected to have TB disease; or
  • You have HIV infection or another condition that puts you at high risk for TB disease; or
  • You have signs and symptoms of TB disease; or
  • You are from a country where TB disease is very common; or
  • You live or work in the United States where TB disease is more common, such as a homeless shelter, migrant farm camp, prison or jail, and some nursing homes; or
  • You use illegal drugs.”

Dr. Tami Hendriksz, D.O., F.A.C.O.P., F.A.A.P.
Assistant Dean of Clinical Integration
Associate Professor of Medicine
Medical Director of the VCUSD School Based Clinics
Touro University California - College of Osteopathic Medicine