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About Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infection caused by a slow-growing germ most often in the lungs. TB is not gone and we have this disease in BC.

There is good news! People with TB can be treated.


About TB

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What is TB?

Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a slow-growing bacterium (germ) called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB usually lives in the lungs, but it can be in any part of the body. Only some people who get TB become sick. 

There are 2 different types of TB: 

  1. latent TB infection (LTBI)
  2. active TB disease

Want to learn more? Read the HealthLinkBC file on TB or watch the What is TB? video.

How TB Spreads

TB is usually spread through the air from one person to another.  In order for this to happen a person must have active TB in their lungs that gets into the air through coughing, sneezing, laughing or singing.  Once TB is in the air another person can breathe it into their lungs.


When TB is in someone's lungs it can begin to grow. It can also move through the blood to other parts of the body. TB is usually only spread to others when it's in the lungs.

Types of TB

Latent TB infection

When someone breathes in the TB bacteria, their body usually starts fighting the bacteria and wins. In these people, the bacteria is still there but it doesn't make them sick. With latent TB a person does not have symptoms and they cannot spread TB to anyone else. The main problem with latent TB is that it can become active TB at any time.  

LTBI fact sheet 

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Active TB disease

If someone has TB bacteria in their body and their body can’t fight it then it becomes active TB. This can happen right after breathing in the TB bacteria or years later. Once a person has active TB they become sick and can spread TB to others. Active TB disease can be deadly, but it can be treated and cured. 

Active TB usually lives in people’s lungs (pulmonary TB), but it can live anywhere in the body (extra-pulmonary TB).  It can also live in more than one place at a time (disseminated TB).

Pulmonary TB fact sheet

Extrapulmonary TB fact sheet

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Signs & Symptoms

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Signs and symptoms of active TB depend on where in the body TB is located. They can begin gradually and worsen over time. Common signs and symptoms include: 

  • fevers, chills and night sweats
  • not hungry (loss of appetite) and unexplained weight loss
  • weakness or feeling very tired

Pulmonary TB

The most often TB will live in the lungs. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • A new or worse cough lasting longer than 3 weeks
  • Coughing up mucus (sputum), sometimes with blood
  • Trouble breathing and chest pain

Extrapulmonary TB

If TB lives outside of the lungs the signs and symptoms will depend on its location. Some examples include:

  • Glands: lumps in the neck
  • Bones: pain in the bones or back
  • Joints: pain, redness, swelling
  • Kidney: painful peeing (urination), cloudy pee (urine)
  • Brain: headaches, stiff neck, hurts to move head or eyes
  • Heart: hard to catch your breath, chest pain
  • Intestines: stomach pain and change in poop (stool, feces)

Latent to Active TB

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Most people with latent TB will never develop active TB. Some people have a higher chance of developing active TB especially those that have a weakened immune system. Some examples include:

  • People who have developed latent TB in the past 2 years
  • Babies, young children, and the elderly
  • People with chronic health conditions such as HIV infection, cancer, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes
  • People who take medications that weaken their immune system
  • People who have taken medicines for TB in the past but it wasn't done right. Examples are not getting the right medicines or not taking the medicines for long enough

Some people with TB can spread it to others. Read the HealthLinkBC file on home isolation for TB. Home isolation means staying at home and avoiding contact with others.

TB in BC

Many people living in BC have never heard of TB. Others have heard of it, but think that it doesn't exist here. BC has about 250 - 300 new diagnoses of active TB disease each year. The majority of people with active TB were born outside of Canada, but anyone can get it. We publish annual reports about TB in BC. 

Want to learn more? Read our TB Reports and watch the How common is TB? video.

Get Tested

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When to test

There are a wide variety of reasons why you may need to have TB screening. Visit your health care provider for a check-up if you have symptoms of TB disease or want to know if you have latent TB infection. Your health care provider will ask you health questions and order the appropriate tests. 

Reason for you to have TB screening may include that you:

  • have signs or symptoms of active TB
  • have been in contact with someone who has TB in their lungs that can spread from person to person
  • work or volunteer in health care
  • have health conditions such as HIV infection, cancer, chronic kidney disease, or diabetes
  • have a low or weakened immune system from immunosuppressive medications
  • are living in a communal setting such as a shelter, corrections, or a treatment program

What to expect

The testing for TB may be available at B.C. health units, travel health clinics, BCCDC TB clinics and some doctor's offices. 

For many people testing is free, but it depends on why you need the test. Tests for work, school or volunteering usually cost money. There are different types of tests that look for TB.  The type of test is chosen based on your medical history and sometimes a body (physical) exam.

Tests

TB skin test

The TB skin test involves 2 clinic visits, 48 to 72 hours apart. 

The tuberculin skin test shows whether or not you have the TB bacteria in your body. It is the most common test used for TB. The test cannot tell the difference between latent or active TB. At the first visit, a health care provider will inject a small amount of fluid (called tuberculin) into the lower part of your arm. At the second appointment, a health care provider will read your body's reaction to the fluid.

  • negative TB skin test usually means that you do not have TB in your body. Most people do not need further testing. 
  • positive TB skin test means you might have TB in your body. Before a diagnosis can be made, more testing is needed. 

TB Skin Test Fact Sheet 

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TB blood test

A TB blood test may be offered to people who qualify. The TB blood test (called an IGRA) shows whether or not you have the TB bacteria in your body. It is often used instead of a TB skin test if you have a weakened immune system or if you've been vaccinated for TB in the past. The test cannot differentiate between latent or active TB. At a clinic visit, a health care provider will draw a sample of your blood, usually from your arm.

  • negative TB blood test usually means that you do not have TB in your body. Most people do not need further testing.
  • positive TB blood test means you might have TB in your body. Before a diagnosis can be made, more testing is needed. 

TB Blood Test Fact Sheet (IGRA)

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Chest x-ray

A chest x-ray may be offered to some people. A chest x-ray is a picture of your lungs. It is often used after you have had a positive TB skin or blood test to see if TB has affected your lungs. If there are changes it's more likely you may have active TB.

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Sputum test

Sputum tests may be offered to some people. A sputum test looks at the mucus from in your lungs. It can help determine if you have active TB and how likely you are to pass it to someone else. Learn more by reading the HealthlinkBC file: Sputum collection for TB testing.

Getting results

The way you get your TB test results will depend on the type of test that you had.  If you had a TB skin test your health care provider will tell you the results are the second appointment, explain what they mean, and let you know if you require more testing.  For other types of TB tests, the results may take several weeks.  When you get tested ask your health care provider how you will get your results and when they will be ready.  It is important to follow-up on your results.

Confidentiality

Any information shared with your health care provider is confidential, including test results.  When you go for TB testing you may be asked to provide personal information.  This is used to give the best health care, order tests, and contact you with results.  If you are concerned about confidentiality talk to your health care provider.

Care & Medications

TB Care

Just Diagnosed

If you have just found out that you have active or latent TB you may be overwhelmed and have a lot of questions.  It's important to know that it's not your fault and you're not alone.  TB is treatable and your health care provider will help figure out the best care and support for you.

If you have found out that you have Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) disease, we have a fact sheet for you.

Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) Disease

NTM are bacteria that are found in the environment. Breathing these bacteria into your lungs may cause disease in both healthy people and people with weakened immune systems. NTM disease most often affects the lungs in adults, but it can affect any part of the body. Unlike TB, it is very rare for NTM bacteria to spread from one person to another.


NTM causes symptoms similar to pneumonia (infection in the lungs) that does not go away. Get medical attention if you have symptoms of pneumonia that last longer than two weeks. 


NTM Fact Sheet

 

TB Medications

TB is treatable and most often curable with medications; however, TB germs have a waxy coat and can be very difficult to kill.  A health care provider will help you decide what treatment is best for you.

Active TB Disease

  • This disease needs a combination of medications to be cured. 
  • The medications must be taken for a minimum of 6 months. It is important to complete the entire course of treatment. 
  • You will be followed (monitored) by health care providers throughout your treatment.

Latent TB Infection

  • The medications can prevent TB from becoming active and you may never get sick
  • Deciding whether you want to treat latent TB infection is your choice, and a health care provider will help you make decisions related to your care.
  • Treatment usually only requires one medication. However, because the TB germs are difficult to kill, this medication needs to be taken for about 4-9 months. 

Health care providers will support and monitor you throughout your treatment. TB medications are generally safe. However, like any medication, they must be used carefully and side effects can occur. Learn more about TB and NTM medications by reading our fact sheets and discussing any questions with your health care provider.

TB Medication Fact Sheets

Clofazimine

 

Clofazimine Medication Sheet 

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Ethambutol Medication Sheet

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Ethionamide Medication Sheet

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Isoniazid Medication Sheet

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Levofloxacin Medication Sheet

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Linezolid Medication Sheet

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Moxifloxacin Medication Sheet

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PASER Medication Sheet

(p-aminosalicyclic acid granules)

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Pyrazinamide Medication Sheet

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Pyridoxine Medication Sheet

(Vitamin B6)

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Rifabutin Medication Sheet

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Rifampin Medication Sheet

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Rifapentine and Isoniazid (3HP) Medication Sheet

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Streptomycin Medication Sheet

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SOURCE: About Tuberculosis ( )
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