Tuberculosis, or TB, is a disease (generally of the lungs) that is easily transmitted through the air when an infected person talks, laughs or coughs. Although TB is rare and highly curable, you still need to take steps to prevent tuberculosis in certain situations, especially if you have tested positive for latent TB (a type of inactive TB that infects about 1/3 of the world’s population). Start with Step 1 below to learn more.
Avoiding Infected TB
Avoid exposure to people with active TB. Obviously the most important precaution to avoid TB is to not be around people with active TB, which is highly contagious, especially if you have tested positive for latent TB. For more specific prevention:
Do not spend a long time with anyone who is infected with active TB, especially if they have only received treatment for less than two weeks. In particular, it is important not to spend time with TB patients in a warm and stuffy room.
If you are forced to be around a TB patient, for example when you work in a TB treatment facility, you should take protective measures, such as wearing a face mask, to avoid breathing in air that contains TB bacteria.
If a friend or family member has active TB, you can help them cure the disease and reduce their risk of infection by making sure they follow treatment instructions exactly.
Find out if you are “at risk “. Certain groups of people have a greater risk than others. If you are one of them, you need to be more vigilant in protecting yourself from exposure to TB. Some of the main groups at risk are as follows:
People with weakened immunity, such as people with HIV or AIDS.
People who live with or care for an active TB patient, such as a close family member or doctor/nurse.
People who live in closed and crowded places such as prisons, nursing homes or homeless shelters.
People who abuse drugs and alcohol, or those who lack or do not have access to adequate health care.
People who live or travel to countries where active TB is prevalent, such as countries in Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia.
Live a healthy lifestyle. People who are in poor health are more susceptible to TB bacteria, because their resistance to the disease is lower than healthy people. Therefore, it is important for you to do your best to live a healthy lifestyle.
A healthy and balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. Avoid processed, sweet and fatty foods.
Exercise often, at least 3 to 4 times a week. Try adding cardiovascular exercise to your sport, such as running, swimming or rowing.
Avoid alcohol consumption and smoking or using illicit drugs.
Plenty of quality sleep, ideally between 7 and 8 hours a night.
Keep personal hygiene and try to spend as much time as possible outdoors, in the fresh air.
Get the BCG vaccination to prevent TB. The BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guerin) vaccine is used in many countries to help prevent the spread of TB, especially among young children. However, this vaccine is not widely used in countries such as the United States where infection rates are low and the disease is highly curable. Therefore, the CDC or the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend this vaccine as routine immunization. The CDC only recommends the BCG vaccine for citizens in the following situations:
When a child tests negative for TB but will continue to be exposed to the disease, especially those who tend to be resistant to treatment.
When a health worker continues to be exposed to tuberculosis, especially those who tend to be resistant to treatment.
Before visiting other countries where tuberculosis is prevalent.
Diagnosing and Treating TB
Schedule a TB test if you have been exposed to someone with tuberculosis. If you have recently been exposed to an active TB patient and believe that you may be infected, it is important to consult a medical professional immediately. There are 2 methods for testing for TB:
Skin test : The Tuberculin Skin Test (TST) requires an injection of a protein solution between 2 and 8 weeks after contact with an infected person. Patients should return 2 or 3 days later to get skin reaction results.
Blood tests: Although not as common as skin tests, TB blood tests require only one visit and are less likely to be misinterpreted by medical professionals. This is an option needed by people who have received the BCG vaccine, as the vaccine can conflict with the accuracy of tuberculin skin tests.
If your TB test is positive, you will need to have additional tests. A medical professional will determine if you have latent (non -communicable) TB or active TB disease before continuing treatment. Advanced tests include a chest x-ray and a sputum test.
Immediately begin treatment for latent TB. If you are positive for latent TB, you should consult your doctor for the best treatment.
Even if you do not feel sick with latent TB, and it is not contagious, you may still be prescribed antibiotics to kill inactive TB germs and prevent tuberculosis from turning into an active disease.
The 2 most common treatments are: isoniazid daily or twice a week. The duration of treatment is 6 or 9 months. Or rifampin daily for 4 months.
Immediately begin treatment for active TB. If you are positive for active TB, it is very important for you to start treatment as soon as possible.
Symptoms of active TB include cough, fever, weight loss, fatigue, night sweats, chills and loss of appetite.
Today, active TB can be cured with a combination of antibiotics, but the duration of treatment can be quite long, usually between six and twelve months.
The most common drugs to treat TB include Tisoniazid, rifampin (Rifadin, Rimactane), ethambutol (Myambutol) and pyrazinamide. With active TB, you usually need to take a combination of these drugs, especially if you tend to be resistant to certain drugs.
If you follow the treatment properly, you should start feeling better within a few weeks and no longer be contagious. However, it is very important for you to complete the treatment, otherwise the TB will remain in the body and you will be potentially more resistant to the drug.
Avoiding TB Transmission
Stay at home. If you have active TB, you must take precautionary measures so that the disease does not spread to others. You should stay home and not work or school for several weeks after diagnosis and not sleep or spend long hours in one room with others.
Room ventilation. TB bacteria spread more quickly indoors with stagnant air. Therefore, you must open all windows or doors to allow air in and expel contaminated air.
Shut your mouth. Just like when you have a cold, you should close your mouth when coughing, sneezing or even laughing. You can use your hands when needed, but it is better to use tissues.
Wear a mask. If you are forced to be around other people, it is a good idea to wear a surgical mask that covers your mouth and nose, at least for the first three weeks after infection. This helps reduce the risk of the bacteria spreading to others.
Complete your treatment. It is absolute for you to complete the treatment given by your doctor. Failure to complete treatment will give the TB bacteria a chance to mutate, making them much more resistant to treatment, and thus becoming more lethal. Completing treatment is the safest option not only for you, but also the people around you.