Tuberculosis is a disease of the lungs that spreads from person to person by coughing, sneezing or speaking. Untreated active tuberculosis is a serious public health threat.
Latent TB infection is more common than active TB, and has no symptoms, but requires treatment to prevent further development of the disease.
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What is TB?
What is TB?
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection found most often in the lungs, but can spread to other parts of the body. Untreated, it can destroy lung tissue and make breathing difficult or impossible. TB is a particular public health concern because it can spread easily through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Latent TB and Active TB
Exposure to TB doesn't always result in illness. Often the disease remains latent, causing no symptoms. Latent TB can develop into active TB if the immune system weakens, either through illness, age or other causes. Latent TB is not contagious, but it's still important to identify and treat latent TB to before it can become active.
Most people are never exposed to a person with infectious tuberculosis for a period long enough to become infected. People most likely to become infected are contacts to active TB cases and the foreign born from countries where TB is prevalent. An estimated 10-15 million U.S. residents and one-third of the world's population are currently infected with the TB organism. A tuberculin skin test will identify latent TB infection.
Is latent TB dangerous?
Latent TB infection does not cause sickness, and has no symptoms. Persons with latent TB can't spread the disease to others. A skin test or blood test can detect the presence of latent TB infection.
How can I be tested for TB?
You can get a TB skin test or blood test at a local health clinic or your doctor's office. The tests are quick and simple, and give results in only a few days.
Who should be tested?
You should get a TB skin test if:
- You have spent time with a person who has active TB.
- You have the symptoms of TB: coughing for more than two weeks, pain in the chest, coughing of blood, and fatigue.
- You have a chronic disease such as diabetes, or another condition that weakens the immune system.
- You have lived in a foreign country where TB is common.
- You have lived or worked in a place where TB is common: migrant farm camps, prisons, homeless shelters or other crowded places where disease can spread.
- You use drugs injected with needles that may not be sterile.
- You have HIV infection.
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