• By Vivien Williams

Mayo Clinic Minute: Understanding TB

September 19, 2019

Tuberculosis (TB) is a potentially serious infectious disease that mainly affects your lungs.

Recommendations for who should be tested have changed over the years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that people who are at higher risk of getting the disease should be tested, including:

  • People who have known exposure to TB
  • Health care workers who care for people who have TB

Recently, the CDC and the National Tuberculosis Controllers Association updated their recommendations for TB screening, testing and treatment of health care personnel. Annual TB testing no longer is recommended, unless there is a known exposure.

Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases expert, says that TB is caused by the mycobacterium bacterium.

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute

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Dr. Sampathkumar says that all forms of TB can be serious. But when TB affects your lungs, it's particularly dangerous because it can spread to others, through the air, when an infected person coughs or even speaks. 

"Anyone is at risk, provided they have enough exposure. But some people are at especially high risk, and those would be people whose immune systems are weakened," says Dr. Sampathkumar.

That group includes people with HIV, people on chemotherapy or people who have had transplants. Some people who get TB can get rid of it on their own.

"If you've progressed beyond that and your body hasn't been able to control the TB, and now you have full-blown active TB disease, treatment can range from six months to much, much longer, depending on the type of TB you have," says Dr. Sampathkumar.

Antibiotic-resistant strains make treatment difficult. Talk to your health care provider if you may have been exposed to TB.

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