Last updated: October 18, 2022
Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis is spread from person to person through the air. TB usually affects the lungs. The bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB of the lung coughs, sneezes, laughs or sings. TB can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, the kidney or the spine.
Tuberculosis is a disease that can be cured if treated properly.
TB can affect anyone of any age
Anyone can get TB, but some people are at higher risk. Those at higher risk include:
- Infants and small children
- People who share the same breathing space (such as family members, friends, coworkers) with someone who has TB disease
- People who live in crowded conditions, have poor nutrition and have poor health care
- Homeless people
- People born in countries where a lot of people have TB
- Nursing home residents
- Alcoholics and intravenous drug users
- People with medical conditions such as being underweight, certain types of cancers and diabetes
- People with medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney failure and those with weakened immune systems (such as HIV or AIDS)
The symptoms of TB disease may include:
Feeling weak or sick, rapid weight loss (over a few weeks or months), fever or night sweats. Symptoms of TB of the lungs may include cough, chest pain or coughing up blood. Other symptoms depend on the particular part of the body that is affected.
TB infection is different from TB disease.
People with TB disease are sick from bacteria that are active in their body. They usually have one or more of the symptoms of TB. These people are often capable of giving the infection to others. Medications can cure TB disease; usually three or more medications are given to treat TB disease.
People with TB infection (without disease) have the bacteria that cause TB in their body. They are not sick because the germ lies inactive in the body. They cannot spread the germ to others. Medications are often prescribed for these people to prevent them from developing TB disease in the future.
The Tuberculin Skin Test (TST) or QuantiFERON-TB Gold Plus (QFT) are two tests that can tell if you have TB infection.
A person can have a TST or QFT through a primary care provider. In certain circumstances, the Anne Arundel County Department of Health will provide TB testing. A negative test usually means a person is not infected. However, TST and QFT may be falsely negative in a person who has just recently been infected. It usually takes 8-10 weeks after exposure to a person with TB disease before a TB test would be positive.
For more information about testing, see TB Testing: What You Need to Know.
If you have TB infection or disease:
- Get all the tests required by your doctor.
- Stay at home until your doctor tells you it is okay to return to work or school. Do not have visitors (especially children) until your doctor says it is okay.
- Keep all your medical appointments.
- Take all your TB medications as prescribed. In Maryland, the local health departments work with doctors to treat people with TB. Local health departments will provide the correct antibiotics and make sure they are taken correctly. Medications must be taken for six months or more.
Tuberculosis Treatment Services
The goal of the Department’s Tuberculosis Services is to control the incidence of TB, cure illness, and prevent relapse and drug resistance. The program works with County residents of all ages, and translators are available.
Specially trained doctors conduct chest clinics twice a month to evaluate and treat clients. For people with active TB infection, appropriate contacts are notified, screened and offered treatment, if appropriate. Nurses observe each client while they take their medications and monitor side effects. It is important to keep all medical appointments and take antibiotics as directed during TB treatment.
- Anne Arundel County Department of Health: TB Testing (PDF)
- Anne Arundel County Department of Health: What You Need To Know About TB
- Maryland Department of Health: TB Fact Sheets (PDF)
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: TB Facts