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Tuberculosis (TB)

What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by bacteria. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.

TB is spread through the air, through coughing or sneezing.

Latent TB Infection and TB Disease

Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. As a result, two TB-related conditions exist: latent TB infection and TB disease.

Latent TB Infection

  • TB bacteria can live in the body without making you sick. The body’s immune system keeps the bacteria in check.
  • People with latent TB infection do not feel sick and do not have any symptoms.
  • People with latent TB infection are not infectious and cannot spread TB bacteria to others.
  • However, if TB bacteria become active in the body and multiply, the person will go from having latent TB infection to being sick with TB disease.

TB Disease

If the body’s immune system can no longer fight the bacteria, the person becomes sick with TB disease.

Symptoms of TB include:

  • Coughing that lasts three or more weeks
  • Chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Unintentional weight loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Fever.
  • Night sweats.
  • Chills.
  • People with compromised immune systems, including those who are aging, can be at a higher risk of infection.

How do you get tested for TB?

There are two kinds of tests that are used to detect TB bacteria in the body: the TB skin test (TST) and TB blood tests. These tests can be given by a health care provider. If you have a positive reaction to either of the tests, you will be given other tests to see if you have latent TB infection or TB disease.

As you age, the skin test is no longer as reliable. Under Ontario law, if you or a loved one is 65 years of age or older, a chest x ray is required before admission to a long term care facility. It is important that facilities rule out active TB disease in all residents to prevent transmission to others in the home.

Please contact your health care provider or the HNHU for more information.

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