Tuberculosis (TB) is an ancient disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, which are spread from person to person through the air. TB usually affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body such as the brain, the kidneys, or the spine. Until the middle of last century there was no treatment available. The risks are very low in WA but can be very high oversea.
Active TB presents with fever, night sweats and weight loss, followed by a cough that lasts more than 2 weeks, coughing up blood and sometimes accompanied by chest pain.
Latent TB means exposure to the bacteria has occurred without the body developing any symptoms. Occasionally this can cause active infection in the future.
Who is at most risk of developing TB?
• People living with someone who has active TB disease
• Migrants and refugees, especially those from developing countries. Refugees are carefully screened for TB on arrival in Australia
• Those who live or work for long periods in countries where TB is common (mainly less developed countries)
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in some parts of Australia
• People whose immune systems are weakened by diseases such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, silicosis or by immunosuppressive therapy
• People living in residential institutions, including prisons
• People living in crowded, substandard housing or on the streets
• Health care workers or volunteers in higher risk settings
How do you get tested for TB?
This depends on whether we are looking for active disease or exposure. Our doctors will guide you. Testing can include sputum culture, blood tests (Quantiferon Gold), skin testing (Mantoux Test) and a chest x-ray.
How is TB treated?
Most TB can be treated and cured with a course of 3 or 4 antibiotics taken together for about 6 months. Good compliance is essential for an effective cure, however antibiotic resistance is increasing globally. Latent TB is treated with a short course antibiotic regime to prevent future illness.
Can TB be prevented with the BCG Vaccine?
A vaccine against TB is available (BCG). It provides good protection in young children, but is not very effective in adults. BCG is no longer part of routine vaccination for children in Australia because of the low level of risk here. It may be offered to children under 5 years travelling for more than 6 months to high risk countries.