TB — or tuberculosis — is a disease, caused by bacteria, that can spread from one person to another. Most often TB affects the lungs, but you can find it in any part of the body.
TB bacteria spreads through the air in tiny droplets when a person who is sick with TB in their lungs coughs, sneezes, or speaks.
If you breathe in these droplets, one of three things can happen:
- You do not get infected with TB bacteria, OR
- You get infected with TB bacteria, and your body controls it (called latent TB infection), OR
- You get infected with TB bacteria, but your body does not control it and you get sick (called active TB disease).
Latent TB infection can turn into active TB disease. That is why getting tested and taking medicine for prevention is important.
What are the symptoms of TB?
Symptoms of active TB disease may include:
- Cough lasting three or more weeks
- Coughing up blood
- Losing weight
- Night sweats
- Shortness of breath
People with latent TB infection do not have any symptoms.
Who is at risk for getting TB?
If you have one or more of the following risk factors, you have a greater chance of getting TB:
- Lived or spent time in a country where TB is common
- Lived or spent time with someone with active TB disease
- Lived or worked in a congregate setting (such as a shelter, jail, long-term care or assisted living facility)
- Worked in a healthcare setting
- Homeless within the last two years
- Drug user
- Baby or child who has spent time with an adult with any of the risk factors listed above
BCG Does Not Prevent TB
Unlike many vaccines that are very good at preventing disease, the bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine has limited benefits. It prevents the most serious TB symptoms in infants and young children. It does NOT prevent you from getting TB infection if you are exposed or developing active TB disease if you have TB infection.
There are two tests that can tell if you have TB bacteria in your body: a skin test and a blood test. For more information about these tests, see the TB Test Options Fact Sheet.
To get tested, call your medical provider or the health department at Arlington County, Department of Human Services at 703-228-4980.
Can TB be treated?
Yes. Latent TB infection and active TB disease can be treated and cured by taking all the medicine your medical provider orders.
If you live outside of Arlington County, contact the Virginia Department of Health for your local health department.
This material is provided in partnership with the NOVA TB Taskforce/TB Mass Media Educational Campaign.