• By Laurel Kelly

Consumer Health: What do you know about TB?

March 23, 2022
Tuberculosis slide

World TB Day will be observed Thursday, March 24, which makes this a good time to learn about this potentially serious infectious disease.

In 2020, 7,174 cases of tuberculosis, or TB, were diagnosed in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worldwide, 10 million cases were diagnosed, according to the World Health Organization.

TB is caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis that spreads from person to person through tiny droplets released into the air through coughs and sneezes. Untreated active disease typically affects your lungs, but it can affect other parts of your body, as well, including the kidneys, spine and brain. When TB occurs outside your lungs, signs and symptoms vary according to the organs involved. Without treatment, TB can be fatal.

Although your body can harbor the bacteria that cause TB, your immune system usually can prevent you from becoming sick. For this reason, a distinction is made between active TB, which is when you experience symptoms of the disease and likely can spread it to others, and latent TB, when the bacteria in your body are inactive and cause no symptoms. Active TB can occur weeks or years after infection with the TB bacteria, and latent TB can turn into active TB, so treatment is important.

Signs and symptoms of active TB include:

  • Coughing for three or more weeks.
  • Coughing up blood or mucus.
  • Chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing.
  • Unintentional weight loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Fever
  • Night sweats.
  • Chills.
  • Loss of appetite.

Treatment depends on the type of infection, as well as your age, overall health, possible drug resistance and where the infection is in your body. For active TB, you need to take antibiotics for at least six to nine months. If you have latent TB, your health care professional might recommend treatment with medication if you're at high risk of developing active TB.

Connect with others talking about TB in the Infectious Diseases support group on Mayo Clinic Connect, an online patient community moderated by Mayo Clinic.