TB Facts

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What is TB?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis.  The bacteria usually attacks the lungs.  But TB bacteria can attack any part of the body, including the kidneys, spine and brain.  If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.  Prior to the 1940s, TB was a leading cause of death in the United States.

How is TB spread?tuberculosis logo

TB is spread through the air from one person to another.  The bacteria are put into the air when a person with active TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs or sneezes.  People nearby may breathe in the bacteria and become infected. People with active TB disease are most likely to spread it to people they spend time with every day, including family members, friends and coworkers.

Symptoms of TB

Symptoms of TB depend on where in the body the TB bacteria are growing.  TB in the lungs usually causes symptoms such as:

  • A bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer
  • Pain in the chest
  • Coughing up blood or phlegm from deep in the lungs
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Fever, chills or night sweats

Who should be tested for TB?

 You should be tested for TB if:

  • You have spent time with a person known or suspected to have active TB
  • You have HIV infection or another condition that puts you at high risk for TB
  • You think you might have active TB disease
  • You are from a country where active TB disease is very common (most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Russia)
  • You live somewhere in the United States  where active TB disease is more common, such as a homeless shelter, migrant farm camp, prison or jail
  • You inject illegal drugs 

tuberculosis posterThe TB skin test is used to find out if you have TB infection.  You can get a skin test at the Chatham County Health Department clinics or at your doctor's office.  A nurse will inject a small amount of testing fluid (called PPD) just under the skin on the under side of the forearm. See photo left.

After 2 or 3 days, you must return to have your skin test read by the nurse.  If you have swelling where the PPD was injected, the nurse will measure the swelling and tell you if you test was negative or positive.  A positive test usually means that you have been infected by someone with active TB disease.  You may need additional tests and a chest x-ray to see if you need to be treated for TB.

What if I have questions about TB disease?

For answers to your questions about TB, TB skin tests, and TB treatment, call the Health Department at 742-5641 (Siler City) or 542-8220 (Pittsboro).