Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. It is a serious condition, but can be cured with proper treatment.

TB mainly affects the lungs. However, it can affect any part of the body, including the glands, bones and nervous system.

TB that affects the lungs is the most contagious type but it usually only spreads after prolonged exposure to someone with the illness. For example, it often spreads within a family who live in the same house.

In most healthy people the immune system kills the bacteria and you have no symptoms. If the immune system fails to kill or contain the infection, it can spread within the lungs or other parts of the body and symptoms will develop within a few weeks or months.

Symptoms

Typical symptoms of (but are not specific to) TB include:

  • A persistent cough that lasts more than three weeks and usually brings up phlegm, which may be bloody
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • High temperature (fever)
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • New swellings that haven’t gone away after a few weeks

You should speak to a doctor if you have a cough that lasts more than three weeks or if you cough up blood.

Diagnosis

TB is usually diagnosed by a chest x-ray and examining a specimen of phlegm.

Treatment

With treatment, TB can usually be cured. Most people will need a course of antibiotics, usually for six months.

Several different antibiotics are used. This is because some forms of TB are resistant to certain antibiotics. If infected with a drug-resistant form of TB, treatment can last as long as two years.

If in close contact with someone who has TB, tests may be carried out to see if they are also infected. These can include a chest x-ray, blood tests, and a skin test called the Mantoux test.

Spreading TB

TB can be passed onto others if there is lots of TB germs in their phlegm. Doctors sometimes call this ‘open TB’ or ‘sputum positive’. If infectious isolation is important.

A tissue should be used to cover the mouth when coughing, then washing  hands and disposing of the tissues carefully.

Once treatment has been started, the risk of being infectious drops very quickly. After two weeks, there is generally no risk to other people.

Isolation

Patients that have infective TB will be provided with a single (isolation) room until they have been deemed no longer infective. This can help prevent TB from spreading throughout a ward and hospital.

Vaccination

The BCG vaccine can provide effective protection against TB in up to eight out of ten people who are given it.

Currently, BCG vaccinations are only recommended for groups of people who are at a higher risk of developing TB.

It’s also recommended some people, such as healthcare workers, are vaccinated because of the increased risk of contracting TB while working.

How can I help reduce healthcare associated infections?

  • Infection prevention and control is important to the well-being of our patients and so we have infection prevention and control procedures in place.
  • Keeping your hands clean is an effective way of preventing the spread of infections. We ask that you, and anyone visiting you, use the hand sanitiser available at the entrance to every ward before coming in to and on leaving the ward.
  • In some situations hands may need to be washed at the sink using soap and water rather than using the hand sanitiser as hand sanitisers are not suitable for use when dealing with patients who have symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea.

For infection prevention and control purposes and to keep you safe and well visitors are requested not to:

  • Visit you if they are unwell
  • Sit on your bed or use the patient toilets.
  • Touch your wounds, or any medical devices, drips or catheters.

Even if you are visiting a patient with no symptoms you must still wash your hands entering or leaving the ward.

Ref: 12-18-134
Review: 07/20