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Diseases : Tuberculosis

What is tuberculosis ?

Tuberculosis is a disease often called TB. It is spread by tiny germs that can float in the air. The TB germs may spray into the air if a person with TB disease coughs, sings or sneezes. The people nearby can breathe TB germs into their lungs and get TB infection. People who have TB infection (not TB disease) cannot spread TB to others.

Most people with TB infection will not get sick; however, some people will get sick and have TB disease.

TB disease usually attacks the lungs, but sometimes it attacks the kidneys, brain or spine. People who have TB disease need medical care because they could die. They can also spread TB to other people.

TB Infection

How do I know if I have TB infection ?

A skin test on your arm is the best way to find out. The test is "positive" if a swelling the size of a dime or bigger appears a few days later. This means you probably have TB infection.

You will need to see a doctor and have other tests, like a chest X-ray. These tests are to double-check you do not have TB disease.

If you are HIV-positive, your skin test can be negative even if the TB germ is in your body. You may need other tests.

Tell the doctor or nurse if you have ever had a "positive" reaction to a TB skin test before, or if you have been treated with TB drugs.

What should I do if I have TB infection ?

Your doctor may recommend medicine to keep you from getting TB disease and becoming sick. This is called "preventive" treatment. Isoniazid (INH) is the medicine used most often.

It takes 6 to 12 months to kill the TB germs. Unless you kill the TB germs with the right medicine, they will stay in your body and may cause TB disease later on.

Is INH safe ?

Yes. Most people can take INH without problems, however, call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms :

  • loss of appetite;
  • feel sick to your stomach;
  • rash;
  • itching;
  • brown or very dark urine;
  • yellow skin.

You may need blood tests to check on this. Tell your doctor if you do not feel well when you are taking the medicine.

Do I have to pay for the medicine ?

No. Your doctor orders the drugs you need from the public health department. These are provided to you free of charge.

What if I need more medicine ?

Call your doctor at least 3 weeks before you need more medicine.

TB Disease

What are the signs of TB disease ?

If the TB disease is in your lungs, you may :

  • cough a lot;
  • cough up mucus or phlegm ("flem") or blood;
  • have chest pain when you cough or breathe.

If you have TB disease anywhere in your body, you may :

  • have a fever;
  • sweat at night;
  • lose your appetite;
  • lose weight;
  • feel weak;
  • have problems in the part of your body with the TB disease.

Who is more likely to get TB disease ?

  • people who got TB infection in the last 2 or 3 years;
  • people with lung scars that show on their chest X-rays;
  • people who are HIV-positive;
  • people who are alcoholics or injection drug users;
  • people with diabetes and certain types of cancers;
  • people who are very thin or who don't eat well.

How do I know if I have TB disease ?

Only a doctor can tell if you have TB disease. A chest X-ray will usually show if you have the disease in your lungs. A TB skin test and tests on phlegm that you cough up are also important.

If TB germs are in your lungs or throat, you can spread the disease to your family and friends. Always cover your mouth when you cough! Stay away from people until your doctor says you can't spread TB germs. This is usually after 2 or 3 weeks of treatment.

Can TB disease be cured ?

Yes! But TB germs are strong. To kill them you must take special medicine for 6 to 9 months. You must take all your medicine until your doctor tells you to stop. If you stop taking your TB medicine too soon you will not be cured. You may get more sick because the TB germs become stronger. You might need stronger medicine for a long time. You might never be cured.

Is TB medicine safe ?

Yes. Only a few people have side effects. Your doctor and public health nurse will tell you about any problems you should report to them. You will get blood tests to check on side effects.

Tell your doctor if you do not feel well when you are taking your TB medicine.

Do I have to pay for TB medicine ?

No. Your doctor orders the drugs for you free of charge, from the public health department. Always call your doctor at least 3 weeks before you need more medicine.

Who can tell me more about TB ?

Talk to your doctor, or contact your local public health unit for more information.

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