What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious disease caused by a type of bacteria that can be spread from person to person through the air. A person with TB disease spreads the bacteria to others by coughing, laughing, sneezing, or even by speaking. TB is most commonly spread to others in confined, poorly ventilated spaces. Although anyone can be exposed to this disease, certain individuals are at higher risk for exposure, including health care professionals, the homeless, and people who were born in countries with high TB rates. Elderly people and individuals with HIV or AIDS are also more likely to get TB because their bodies are less able to fight off infections.

Being diagnosed with TB infection (also called Latent TB Infection, Latent TB, or LTBI) means you have inactive TB bacteria in your body. Because the bacteria are inactive, you are not contagious. However, TB infection may become an active disease if your immune system is weakened (if you are elderly or have HIV, for example). According to the World Health Organization, about 1/4 of the world's population has TB infection.

Being diagnosed with TB disease (also known as Active TB or Active TB disease) means you have active TB bacteria in your body. Usually, a person with Active TB Disease exhibits symptoms such as a lasting cough, coughing up blood, fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, and weight loss. If you have TB disease, the bacteria are multiplying in your body and can be spread to others. TB disease can almost always be cured, but it may be fatal if you don't take all your medication. Treatment for TB disease typically consists of multi-drug therapy for an average of six months.

In addition to using symptoms and chest x-rays to help diagnose TB disease, sputum specimens (material coughed from deep within the lung) are sent to the Kansas Division of Health and Environmental Laboratories for microscopic examination and culture to detect and recover the TB bacterium and confirm the diagnosis. The TB bacteria grown in culture are tested against the antibiotics used to treat the disease to make sure the bacteria are sensitive to them. The laboratory also uses the newer TB gene amplification tests on microscopically positive sputum specimens to identify TB within one to two days. This is very helpful since TB bacteria grow slowly and take an average of 16 days to grow in culture but can take up to six weeks to grow. However, it's still important to grow the bacteria in culture for antibiotic sensitivity testing even if the gene amplification test is positive.

Show All Answers

1. What is Tuberculosis?