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Tuberculosis (TB)

is a severe infection caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB usually starts in the lungs. The bacteria are easily spread from one person to another through the air. They can live in your body a long time without making you sick. This is called latent TB. Latent means you do not have symptoms, but you may develop them later. Latent TB can develop into active TB if it is not treated.

Common signs and symptoms:

You can spread TB to others even if you do not yet have symptoms. TB mostly affects the lungs, but almost any part of the body can be infected. You may have any of the following:

  • A fever or night sweats
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Tiredness
  • A cough for at least 3 weeks
  • Blood in your sputum
  • Chest or upper back pain, especially when you breathe
  • Shortness of breath

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have chest pain or cough up blood.
  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have a fever, headache, and a stiff neck.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have a rash, nausea, or vomiting.
  • The whites of your eyes or your skin look yellow.
  • Your urine looks like dark tea or coffee.
  • Your symptoms do not go away or get worse, even after you take medicine.
  • You have a cough that does not go away after 3 or 4 weeks.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


TB is treated with antibiotic medicine to fight the infection. You will need to take 3 to 4 types of antibiotics for up to 8 weeks. Then you will need to take at least 2 types of antibiotics for another 18 to 31 weeks.

Remember to take your medicines:

  • Get involved in the Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) program. Healthcare providers help make sure you take your medicines correctly.
  • Take your medicine at the same time every day. Each night, put out the pills for the next day. Mark a calendar each day you take your pills.
  • Create reminders. Ask a family member or friend to remind you to take your pills.
  • Keep medicines where you will see them. Keep the pills in a place where you cannot miss them, such as the bathroom or kitchen. Be sure they are out of the reach of children.

Prevent the spread of TB:

  • Take your medicine as scheduled. If you forget to take your pills one time, skip that dose and take the next scheduled dose. Write down that you missed a dose and tell your healthcare provider at your next visit.
  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a child's diapers, or sneeze. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.
  • Cover your mouth and nose. You may need to wear a mask. Use tissues when you cough or sneeze. Throw the used tissue away. If possible, flush used tissues down a toilet.
  • Avoid close contact with others. Babies and elderly people are at increased risk for TB.
  • Tell family, friends, and coworkers that you have TB. They may have latent TB and need to take medicine to prevent it from becoming active.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

You will need to return once a month for tests to monitor your condition. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

For more information:

  • CDC National Prevention Information Network
    PO Box 6003
    Rockville , MD 20849-6003
    Phone: 1- 800 - 4585231
    Web Address:
  • World Health Organization
    Web Address:

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.