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What is Tuberculosis (TB)?

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease that is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB primarily affects the lungs, but it can also affect any other organ or part of the body.

There are two types of TB. Active TB and Latent TB.

A person with ACTIVE TB will:

  • Feel ill
  • Have symptoms that may include:

    • A bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer.
    • Pain in the chest.
    • Coughing up blood or sputum.
    • Weakness or fatigue.
    • Weight loss.
    • No appetite.
    • Chills.
    • Fever.
    • Sweating at night.

  • May spread TB to others.
  • Usually has a positive skin test.
  • May have an abnormal chest x-ray, or positive sputum smear or culture.

A person with LATENT TB will:

  • not feel ill.
  • Cannot spread TB to others
  • Usually has a positive skin test
  • Has a normal chest x-ray and sputum test.


The most common type of TB is in the lungs, known as pulmonary TB. Only TB of the lungs or throat can be infectious. TB can affect any part of the body including kidneys, brain or bones. This is called non-pulmonary TB – and is not infectious.

Parts Of The Body

How is TB contracted

People get TB when they breathe in the TB bacteria, which are spread through the air. But most people won’t get ill because:

  • TB bacteria are only in the air after someone with infectious TB coughs or sneezes.
  • You need to spend many hours close to a person with infectious TB to breathe in enough bacteria to be at risk.
  • Most people's immune systems are strong enough to kill off TB bacteria.

You CAN NOT get TB by:

  • Shaking someone's hand
  • Sharing food or drink
  • Touching bed linens or toilet seats
  • Sharing toothbrushes
  • Kissing

 There are two kinds of tests that are used to determine if a person has been infected with TB bacteria: the tuberculin skin test (Mantoux) and TB blood tests (T-Spot).

A positive TB skin test or TB blood test only tells that a person has been infected with TB bacteria. It does not tell whether the person has latent TB or active TB. Other tests, such as a chest x-ray and a sample of sputum, are needed to see whether the person has TB.

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