Tuberculosis (TB) is an infection caused by a germ called the tubercle bacillus or mycobacterium tuberculosis. It can affect the lungs (pulmonary TB) or other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes (tuberculous adenitis or scrofula), the skin and the bones. TB is sometimes a contagious disease. When it is contagious, it spreads through the air like the common cold.

Only people who are sick with TB in their lungs and who have TB germs in their sputum (spit) are infectious. When infectious people cough, sneeze, talk or spit, they propel TB germs, known as bacilli, into the air. A person needs only to inhale a small number of these to be infected. But people infected with TB bacilli will not necessarily become sick with the disease. The immune system "walls off" the TB bacilli which, protected by a thick waxy coat, can lie dormant for years. When someone's immune system is weakened, the chances of becoming sick are greater.

Typical symptoms of active tuberculosis may include:

  • A persistent cough, with and without phlegm (coughed-up mucus)
  • Night sweats and fever
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing up blood
  • Persistent lymph gland swelling

Patients with these symptoms should contact their GP (doctor) without delay to be assessed and referred if necessary. You may also contact the TB nursing team for further advice on: 0114 305 1620
What if I have been in contact with someone with TB?

Discuss this with your family doctor or the TB nursing team. Only close contacts are at risk of catching TB. If screening is advised, the TB nursing team will arrange this with you. For further information on TB visit the The Truth About TB website.

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