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Diseases and conditions

Tuberculosis, also called TB, is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium named Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB usually involves the lungs (pulmonary TB) but can infect almost any organ in the body. TB is almost always curable with antibiotics. Tuberculosis kills more people today than any other infectious disease. However, death from TB is rare in the United States.

For more information about TB (symptoms, spread, testing, treatment) please contact our TB Case Management Team at (360) 397-8182 or visit our partners:

  • Health care providers may report actual or suspected TB by calling (360) 397-8182
  • For questions about TB, call (360) 397-8182

TB symptoms

  • Cough (usually for more than 3 weeks).
  • Coughing up blood or phlegm from deep inside the lungs and pain in the chest.
  • Fatigue.
  • Weight loss.
  • Fever.
  • Night sweats.

Symptoms usually come on gradually over a period of weeks.

How TB is spread
TB spreads when someone who has pulmonary TB coughs. TB bacteria from that person's lungs are expelled into the air, and may be inhaled into the lungs of another person. TB is not very infectious and is much harder to catch than the common cold. Usually a lot of time needs to be spent with a person with pulmonary TB for someone to catch it. It's not possible to get TB from sharing a glass with a person with TB or touching a doorknob after someone with TB has used it. 

Once people with TB are on medication they quickly become non-contagious and can quickly resume their normal patterns of life without fear of spreading the disease.

What is the difference between TB Infection and Active TB?
If you have TB disease, you are made sick by active germs in your body. Often you will have several symptoms like persistent cough, fever and weight loss. If the disease is in your lungs, you can give the disease to other people. Permanent damage and death can result from this disease. Medications to cure TB are almost always effective.

If you have a TB infection, you have germs that can cause TB in your body. However, you are not sick because the germ is inactive. You can’t make other people sick. Medication is often given to prevent you from developing TB disease in the future.

Treating active TB
To treat TB several antibiotics need to be taken together over a period of 6 to 12 months. For this treatment to work it's vital that antibiotics be taken regularly and that the treatment be completed. Lengthy treatment is necessary because it is difficult to remove TB bacteria from the body. 

To help you successfully complete your TB treatment, Public Health provides Directly Observed Therapy. This therapy involves observing you as you swallow your medication. 

Treating a TB infection
TB infection means you have bacteria sleeping in your body. You’re not sick or contagious because the bacteria are dormant. TB infection is detected when you have a positive skin test but a normal chest x-ray and no other sign of tuberculosis disease. To kill these sleeping bacteria and to prevent the development of active disease, you are often advised to take several months of treatment, usually with only one or two medications.

What is the TB Skin Test?
The TB skin test is performed by injecting a small amount of testing liquid into the skin of the forearm. The test needs to be read 48 to 72 hours later by someone trained in reading skin tests. If it's positive then a chest x-ray is done to rule out active disease. If the chest x-ray is normal then you are likely to have TB infection. Once a skin test is positive it will most likely stay positive and should not be repeated. Unless you develop symptoms, one chest x-ray is all that's needed. If you have an active case of TB, skin tests are provided to your family and close contacts. Most other requests for TB skin tests are referred to an individual’s primary care provider.


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(360) 397-8000 ext. 7205

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(360) 397-8000 ext. 7214