Tuberculosis, known as TB, is a bacterial infection caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculae. It is a common infection worldwide In the United Kingdom approximately 8000 new cases of TB were notified in 2008. The bacteria are spread by aerosol e.g by sneezing or coughing. TB commonly affects the lungs but can cause infection in any other part of the body.
What are the symptoms of TB?
Symptoms of TB include weight loss, night sweats, fever and cough including coughing up blood. There may be previous contact with someone who has had TB.
If your G.P thinks you have symptoms of TB, you will be referred to the TB clinic. The TB clinic is part of the respiratory department. The staff includes doctors and nurses who have a specialist interest in TB. You will be asked questions about your symptoms and examined. You will usually have a chest x-ray during your clinic visit. If you are able to provide sputum samples then we will ask you to provide three sputum samples on three consecutive mornings. We can test these samples by looking for the TB bacteria under the microscope and trying to grow Tb in the laboratory. The bacteria can take up to eight weeks to grow in the laboratory. If you are unable to provide sputum samples we may organise a bronchoscopy which is a telescope passed into your lungs. We will wash out part of the lungs and test this in the same way we test the sputum.
If we think you have TB involving another part of the body we will arrange that a sample be taken from this part of the body.
Treating TB disease
TB is a curable disease. The treatment is with antibiotics. TB is a slow growing bacteria therefore we need to treat you for a minimum of 6 months. The treatment usually involves four antibiotics. You will need to take the treatment everyday for 6 months. It is important that you let us know straight away if you have any problems taking the treatment.
Screening for TB
Anyone who is a close contact of someone diagnosed with TB will be invited to have screening. Screening involves asking if there are any symptoms that suggest TB. You will also have a skin test or blood test to look for evidence of TB infection and a CXR. If we think you have TB disease we will treat you.
BCG is a live attenuated vaccine. It provokes an immune reaction to the TB bacteria. After screening you we may offer you a BCG vaccination if you have not had one previously.
TB only causes disease in a proportion of individuals. In others it is present in the body but does not cause disease. This is known as latent TB. An individual with latent TB is not infectious and may never develop disease. If after testing you we show evidence of latent TB, we may offer you treatment to treat the latent TB in order to prevent you developing disease in the future.