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What is Tuberculosis?

General Practice Womens Health


Tuberculosis (commonly referred to as TB) is a potentially severe infectious disease caused by the Mycobacterium bacterium. While mainly affecting the lungs, the tuberculosis bacteria can also attack your brain, kidney, and spine. Some people can get infected with tuberculosis and not become sick. This condition is called latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI). Read on to find out what causes Tuberculosis and how to protect yourself from infection.

What causes Tuberculosis?

When a person with active tuberculosis disease of the lungs or upper airways coughs, sings, laughs or sneezes, you can become infected if you breathe in their exhaled bacteria. Once this bacterium settles in your lungs, it can grow and move through your lymphatic and blood system.

What are the first signs of Tuberculosis?

The first signs of tuberculosis can include:

  • Coughing up blood in phlegm
  • Experiencing a fever
  • Experiencing chest pain
  • Feeling tired and unwell
  • Having a bad cough that lasts at least three weeks
  • Having night sweats
  • Having swollen lymph glands

No appetite or losing weight without meaning to.

Latent tuberculosis (Latent TB) occurs if your body harbours the tuberculosis

bacteria, and your immune system prevents you from becoming ill. This type of

tuberculosis isn’t contagious but can turn into active tuberculosis (Active TB).

Active tuberculosis can make you very sick for weeks, months and even years and can be easily spread to other people.

Is Tuberculosis contagious?

The tuberculosis bacteria is contagious and can spread through the air from one person to another if the infected person:

  • Coughs.
  • Laughs.
  • Sings.
  • Sneezes.When inhaled, the bacteria can settle in your lungs and grow. From your lungs, it can then move through your bloodstream to other parts of your body, including your brain, kidneys, and spine.Tuberculosis cannot be spread by:
    • Kissing
    • Shaking someone’s hand
    • Sharing food or drink
    • Sharing toothbrushes
    • Touching toilet seats or bed linen.

How is Tuberculosis transmitted?

Tuberculosis is transmitted if you breathe in the germs of a person with tuberculosis. People with tuberculosis are most likely to spread it to:

  • Colleagues
  • Family members
  • Friends
  • School friends.

Is Tuberculosis curable?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tuberculosis is curable and preventable. Caused by bacteria, Tuberculosis is spread when a person with infected lungs coughs, sneezes, or spits. Using a range of antibiotic drugs, the WHO estimates 66 million lives have been saved between 2000 and 2020.

Does tuberculosis affect the skin?

Tuberculosis can affect your skin and is called cutaneous tuberculosis. This condition is caused by the same bacteria that causes tuberculosis of the lungs (pulmonary tuberculosis).

While tuberculosis of the skin is uncommon, there are risk factors for developing it including:

  • Close contact with someone who has active tuberculosis
  • Living in a crowded community, like aged care residences, hospitals, and prisons
  • Visiting or living in a community or country where tuberculosis is common
  • Working in healthcare environments and hospitals.

How to treat tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis can be treated by using a range of antibiotics that work in different ways to kill the bacteria. Because tuberculosis bacteria take a long time to die, a combination of treatments is usually needed. If only one type of medication is used to treat your tuberculosis, you may develop tuberculosis resistant to drugs.

The benefits of taking the tuberculosis treatments prescribed by your doctor include:

  • Clearing your body of the disease
  • Preventing the further spread of tuberculosis
  • Preventing the development of tuberculosis-resistant strains.

While taking tuberculosis medications, it’s essential to avoid drinking alcohol or taking paracetamol, as this can interfere with the drugs.

Is Tuberculosis deadly?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates a total of 1.6 million people died from TB in 2021. Tuberculosis is the 13th leading cause of death worldwide and the second-leading infectious killer after COVID-19 (above HIV/AIDS). In 2021, 1.2 million children became infected with tuberculosis.  

While tuberculosis occurs worldwide, in 2021, WHO noted the most significant number of “new tuberculosis cases occurred in the WHO South-East Asian Region, with 46% of new cases, followed by the WHO African Region, with 23% of new cases and the WHO Western Pacific with 18%.” Since 2000, an estimated 74 million lives have been saved through being diagnosed with Tuberculosis and getting the proper treatment. More spending on vaccines is needed to halt this deadly disease and prevent deaths from tuberculosis. 

Is there a vaccine for tuberculosis?

According to the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care Immunisation Handbook, the BCG (bacille Calmette–Guérin) tuberculosis vaccine is recommended for:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children under five years in parts of Australia, including Far North Queensland and the Northern Territory
  • Children born to parents from countries with a high tuberculosis incidence
  • Healthcare workers with an increased risk of exposure to tuberculosis
  • Young children planning to travel to settings with high tuberculosis rates, including countries in Asia, southern and eastern European countries, Pacific Island nations and north and sub-Saharan Africa
  • Young children who are household contacts of a person who has leprosy.

The BCG vaccine is a single-dose intradermal injection. You can receive the BCG vaccine simultaneously as other inactivated vaccines. Have you got questions about the vaccine for tuberculosis? Contact us here.

Clinic Location and Contact Details

Southgate Medical offers tuberculosis vaccinations at our Melbourne and Frankston clinics. 

Make Your Vaccination Booking Online

Southgate Medical is a member of the Travel Doctor-TMVC group, the leading provider of travel vaccinations and advice in Australia. Our friendly and helpful doctors are experts in travel medicine and have up-to-date knowledge of travel health requirements.

Book an appointment with us today for tuberculosis and other travel vaccination recommendations.