Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious infectious disease caused by the Mycobacterium Tuberculosis bacteria. TB usually infects the lungs, but it can also infect other parts of the body including the kidneys, spine, and brain.

What are the symptoms of Tuberculosis?

The majority of people infected with M. Tuberculosis have a latent TB infection (LTBI). LTBI has no symptoms because the immune system isolates the bacteria. People with this infection often do not get sick, and they are not contagious.

On average, people who have LTBI face a 10 percent lifetime risk of developing active TB. This risk increases significantly for people who have HIV or diabetes, who are malnourished, or who use tobacco.

When TB infects the lungs, symptoms include a chest pain and a cough that produces phlegm or blood and that lasts more than three weeks. Other symptoms of active TB usually include weakness, tiredness, weight loss, chills, fever, night sweats, and sore and swollen lymph glands. Usually, TB symptoms do not appear until after the disease has caused some damage.

How can I get Tuberculosis?

M. Tuberculosis spreads in respiratory droplets. When someone who has TB coughs, sneezes, or laughs, TB germs can stay in the air for hours. If you breathe air infected with TB germs, you can become infected and develop a latent infection. TB spreads easily in small, enclosed spaces that have poor air circulation. You cannot get TB from by casual contact like a handshake or by sharing food or drinks.

Where can I get Tuberculosis?

TB occurs in all parts of the world and is prevalent in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. About one-third of the world’s population has a latent TB infection, and more than 8 million people develop active TB each year.

Anyone can get TB. You are at higher risk if you have:

  • Lived, worked or travelled in countries where TB is common.
  • Shared a living space with someone with TB.
  • Lived or worked in facilities such as hospitals, homeless shelters, refugee camps, seniors’ homes, or correctional facilities that are crowded or poorly ventilated.
  • Previously had active TB.
  • Lived in a community with a high rate of TB infection or disease.
  • A weak immune system.

What vaccines are available for Tuberculosis?

TB is extremely rare in Canada, and the vaccine is not recommended for routine use in Canada.

For most Canadian travellers the risk of contracting TB is very low, and vaccination is unnecessary. If you are travelling to a country with a high incidence of TB and expect to be in close, long-term contact with local residents, consult with your travel medicine specialist to determine whether vaccination is advisable.

How can I prevent Tuberculosis?

If you are travelling to a destination where you believe you may be at risk for exposure to Tuberculosis, consult with your travel health specialist, preferably six weeks before you leave. The specialist can advise you about vaccination, pre- and post-travel TB skin tests, and effective preventative measures that are based on your destination and itinerary.

What is the treatment for Tuberculosis?

Latent and active TB are both treated with anti-Tuberculosis medication. For people who have latent TB, the medication will kill the bacteria and prevent the infection from becoming active. For people who have active TB, after a few weeks of treatment their symptoms will disappear and they will no longer be contagious. However, the full treatment must be completed to prevent development of drug-resistant M. Tuberculosis and incurable TB, which can be fatal.

Find out more information on Tuberculosis from our Vancouver Travel Clinic or any of our other 18 Travel Clinic locations.