Often when people hear the word “tuberculosis” they think of a disease that has been long gone. But tuberculosis, commonly referred to as TB, is still a very real problem in the United States. TB remains the world’s leading infectious killer, being responsible for the deaths of nearly 1.7 million people each year and representing the ninth leading cause of death globally. In 2016, Georgia had the 12th highest TB case rate and ranked #6 in terms of numbers of cases of active TB disease among states in the U.S.
World TB Day is recognized every year on March 24 but the more we talk about the disease and how to prevent it the better chances we have of ending TB. This year’s World TB Day theme is “Wanted: Leaders for a TB-Free United States. We can make history. End TB.” The mission of the Georgia Tuberculosis Program is to control transmission, prevent illness, and ensure treatment of disease due to TB by using three strategies: Identifying and treating persons who have active TB; locating, evaluating, and treating contacts; and screening high-risk populations and treating latent TB infection (LTBI).
For more information on the Coastal Health District’s TB program, click HERE.
What is TB?
TB is a disease that usually affects the lungs but can attack any part of the body. TB is caused by germs that are spread from person to person through the air when a person with active TB coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. Although a relatively small number of people exposed to the disease actually contract the infection, active TB disease can be life threatening if left untreated. TB is both preventable and curable. TB can also live in the body without making you sick. This is called latent TB infection (LTBI). Many people who have LTBI never develop active TB.
How is TB spread?
TB bacteria are spread through the air from one person to another. The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.
TB is NOT spread by
- shaking someone’s hand
- sharing food or drink
- touching bed linens or toilet seats
- sharing toothbrushes
When a person breathes in TB bacteria, the bacteria can settle in the lungs and begin to grow. From there, they can move through the blood to other parts of the body, such as the kidney, spine, and brain.
TB disease in the lungs or throat can be infectious. This means that the bacteria can be spread to other people. TB in other parts of the body, such as the kidney or spine, is usually not infectious.
People with TB disease are most likely to spread it to people they spend time with every day. This includes family members, friends, and coworkers or schoolmates.
Symptoms of TB Disease depend on where in the body the TB bacteria are growing. TB bacteria usually grow in the lungs (pulmonary TB).
TB disease in the lungs may cause symptoms such as a bad cough that lasts three weeks or longer, pain in the chest, coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lungs). Other symptoms of TB disease are weakness or fatigue, weight loss, no appetite, chills, fever, and sweating at night.
Symptoms of TB disease in other parts of the body depend on the area affected.