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Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by a germ or bacteria call Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria can cause two types of illness: an active form (TB disease) and a latent form called latent TB infection.

Chest X-rayTB is a serious but treatable infectious disease. TB bacteria can cause disease in the lungs, throat, lymph nodes, brain, spine, and many other sites. Untreated TB disease can be fatal.

The symptoms of TB are:

  • Persistent cough
  • Unexpected weight loss (not from dieting)
  • Night sweats
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Other symptoms based on the site of disease

Evaluation and treatment for TB includes:

  • A medical evaluation including lab tests, chest x-rays, and a physical exam
  • Prescribed anti-TB medications for at least 6 months. TB bacteria are unusual and take longer to kill than most other bacteria.

Latent TB Infection (LTBI)

Most people who breathe in TB bacteria get LTBI, not TB disease. With LTBI:

  • The immune system (the system that fights disease) forms a wall around the TB bacteria, so it cannot multiply or spread.
  • The person has no symptoms and cannot spread the germs to others.
  • The TB bacteria might stay latent for decades.
  • The person will usually have a positive TB skin test or positive blood assay, but their chest x-ray will show no evidence of TB.
  • If the person does not get treatment, the bacteria could "activate" (go from being latent to causing TB disease). This can happen if a person's health declines due to sickness, stress, or aging. In this situation the immune system can no longer wall off the bacteria.

Treatment of LTBI

LTBI is usually treated with one medication, called Isoniazid or INH for 9 months.

How is TB Spread?

When someone with active TB disease in the lungs or throat coughs, sings or even speaks, TB bacteria can be released in to the air. TB bacteria can stay in the air for hours. You can get TB either latent TB infection or active TB disease by breathing in TB bacteria that someone who is sick with TB disease has coughed into the air. You cannot get TB by sharing food, shaking hands or using the same toilet.

Frequently Asked Questions About TB

Financial Assistance

Financial assistance is available for TB related care for individuals who have no health insurance and a limited income. Reimbursement is made at the Medicaid rate directly to providers and pharmacies for TB-related visits, medications and laboratory testing. The TB Fund is always the payer of the last resort.

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New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services
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