Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious bacterial infection that mainly affects the lungs. It can also affect other parts of the body, including the brain, spine, and kidneys. TB is spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing.
Who is at risk
You may be at higher risk for getting TB if you:
- Are a healthcare worker who cares for patients who have or are at high risk for getting TB.
- Live or work in a place with a high rate of TB infection. These include homeless shelters, nursing homes, and prisons.
- Have been exposed to someone who has an active TB infection.
- Have HIV or another disease that weakens your immune system.
- Use illegal drugs.
- Have traveled or lived in an area where TB is more common. These include countries in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and in Russia.
- Cough that lasts for three weeks or more
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
What you can do
Avoid contact with people who have TB.
Preventive service at no cost
Asymptomatic adults at increased risk for infection
The USPSTF recommends screening for latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) in populations at increased risk.
Why screening is important
The majority of people exposed to the bacteria don’t experience TB symptoms right away. If not treated, TB can be deadly. But most cases of TB can be cured if you take antibiotics as directed by your health care provider. Both active and latent TB should be treated, because latent TB can turn into active TB and become dangerous.
What the screening is
There are two types of TB tests used for screening: a TB skin test and a TB blood test. These tests can show if you have ever been infected with TB. They don't show if you have a latent or active TB infection. More tests will be needed to confirm or rule out a diagnosis.
If your TB skin test or blood test shows a possible TB infection, your healthcare provider will probably order more tests to help make a diagnosis. You may also need further testing if your results were negative, but you have symptoms of TB and/or have certain risk factors for TB. Tests that diagnose TB include chest x-rays and tests on a sputum sample. Sputum is a thick mucous coughed up from the lungs. It is different than spit or saliva.
If your doctor diagnoses TB, he or she may prescribe medications. If so, be sure to take all of the medication as prescribed for as long as it is prescribed.
Talk to your employer if you work in a high-risk job for TB infection. They may offer TB testing and/or vaccination.
Being infected with the TB bacteria is not the same as having active tuberculosis disease.