Top 5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Tuberculosis
- How do you get TB?
It is not easy to become infected with tuberculosis. Usually, a person has to be close to someone with TB disease for a long period of time. TB is usually spread between family members, close friends, and people who work or live together. TB is spread most easily in closed spaces over a long period of time. Your doctor can better help you understand your risk for TB.
- How common is TB in the U.S.?
TB is extremely common worldwide, but not in the United States. Luckily, rates of TB in the U.S. have been decreasing since the 1950s. Currently, most of the TB patients in the U.S. were born in other countries, where TB is more common. However, TB does still exist in the U.S. so it is important to talk to your doctor if you think you have been exposed.
- How do I know if I have TB?
The symptoms of TB resemble the symptoms of many other diseases. Symptoms can include cough, weight loss, fever and coughing up blood. A person with TB disease may feel perfectly healthy or may only have a cough from time to time. If you think you have been exposed to TB, get a TB test. If you are unsure if you should get a TB test, talk to your doctor.
- What is the difference between latent TB and active TB?
Someone who is infected with TB has the TB germs, or bacteria, in their body. The body's immune system is protecting them from the germs and they are not sick. This is referred to as latent TB. Someone with TB disease is sick and can spread the disease to other people. A person with TB disease needs to see a doctor as soon as possible. This is referred to as active TB.
- How is TB treated?
Treatment for TB depends on whether a person has active TB disease or only latent TB infection. If you have become infected with TB, but do not have clinically active TB disease, you may get preventive therapy. If you have clinically active TB disease you will probably be treated with a combination of several drugs for 6 to 12 months.
It is very important that you continue to take the medicine correctly for the full length of treatment. If you take the medicine incorrectly or stop taking it, you may become sick again and will be able to infect others with TB. If you don't take the medicine correctly and you become sick with TB a second time, the TB may be harder to treat as it can become drug resistant.
Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed March 30, 2018.