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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

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have chest pain or cough up blood.
  • You have trouble breathing.

Call your doctor if:

  • You have a fever, headache, and a stiff neck.
  • You have a rash or nausea, or you are 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 they 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 may need to take 3 to 4 types of antibiotics for up to 8 weeks. Then you may need to take at least 2 types of antibiotics for another 18 to 31 weeks.
  • Latent TB may be treated with 1 antibiotic for 16 weeks. You may instead need to take 2 antibiotics for 12 weeks. You will take these daily or weekly, depending on the antibiotics used. Your healthcare provider may choose to give you 1 antibiotic to take daily for 24 to 36 weeks. This schedule is not as common.

Remember to take your medicines:

  • Take your medicine as directed. 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.
  • 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:

  • Wash your hands often. Wash your hands several times each day. Wash after you use the bathroom, change a child's diaper, and before you prepare or eat food. Use soap and water every time. Rub your soapy hands together, lacing your fingers. Wash the front and back of your hands, and in between your fingers. Use the fingers of one hand to scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. Use hand sanitizer that contains alcohol if soap and water are not available. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands first.
  • Cover a sneeze or cough. Use a tissue that covers your mouth and nose. Throw the tissue away in a trash can right away. Use the bend of your arm if a tissue is not available. Then wash your hands well with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer. Do not stand close to anyone who is sneezing or coughing.
  • Take your medicine as directed. 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.
  • 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 doctor as directed:

You may need to return each 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:

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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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.