Frequently Asked Questions

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by a type of bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB most  commonly affects the lungs, when it is called pulmonary tuberculosis, but also can involve any other organ of the body in which case it is called extra-pulmonary tuberculosis. These FAQs are about pulmonary TB.   Frequently Asked Questions about Tuberculosis. (2013). [ebook] New Delhi-110002, India: Regional Office for South-East Asia, World Health Organization. Available at:// en/index.html [Accessed 1 Jan. 2018].
The most common symptoms of TB are:
  • chronic cough
  • fever, especially rising in the evening
  • night sweats
  • chest pain
  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • coughing up blood.

TB is spread primarily from person to person through infected air during close contact. The bacteria get into the air when someone infected with TB of the lung coughs, sneezes, shouts, or spits. A person can become infected when they inhale minute particles of the infected sputum from the air. It is not possible to get TB by just touching the clothes or shaking the hand of someone who is infected.

TB germs spread more easily in crowded conditions as the bacteria sometimes stay alive in the air for a few hours, especially in small closed places with no fresh air. Fresh air scatters the germs and sunlight acts as a bactericide, killing the TB organisms. Exposure to moderately hot temperatures for extended periods of time is sufficient to kill these bacteria. Extra-pulmonary TB does not spread from person to person.

If you are infectious while you are taking rest at home, you can do the following things to protect others near you.

  • Take your medicines as directed. This is very important!
  • Always cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough, sneeze, or laugh. Put the tissue in a closed bag and throw it away safely.
  • Isolate yourself from others and avoid close contact with anyone. Sleep in a bedroom away from other family members for the first few weeks.
  • Air out your room often to the outside of the building (if it is not too cold outside). TB spreads in small closed spaces where air doesn’t move. Put a fan in your window to blow out air that may be filled with TB bacteria. If you open other windows in the room, the fan also will pull in fresh air. This will reduce the chances that TB bacteria will stay in the room and infect someone who breathes the air.

After you take the medicines for about 2 or 3 weeks, you might no longer be able to spread TB bacteria to others. If your doctor or nurse agrees, you will be able to go back to your daily routine, including returning to work or school. But remember, you will only get well if you take your medicines exactly as directed by your doctor or nurse.

Think about people who may have spent time with you, such as family members, close friends, and co-workers. The local health department may need to test them for TB infection. TB is especially dangerous for children and HIV-infected persons. If these people are infected with TB bacteria, they need medicines right away to keep them from developing active TB disease.