Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection that most commonly affects the lungs, but can also affect the lymph nodes, bones, joints and kidneys. It can cause meningitis.
In New Zealand, there are approximately 300 cases of TB diagnosed each year. While life-threatening complications such as haemorrhage from the lungs are now rare, TB can still be a very serious disease, particularly for older people.
Tuberculosis is spread through coughing, sneezing or spitting. The bacteria are carried into the air and people nearby can breathe them in through their mouths and noses. You need to live or work closely with an infected person to catch the disease.
Tuberculosis can stay sleeping (latent) in someone’s body for many years before it develops. Even though you feel well and healthy, the doctor may still advise treatment to make sure you do not develop TB disease.
TB can be treated with antibiotics. It’s very important to finish the treatment or the disease will get worse again.
Tuberculosis vaccinations are normally only given to:
People with tuberculosis don’t always show symptoms. If you’re healthy, your body can usually stop the TB bacteria from growing.
Coughing up blood is a widely known symptom of TB, but if this occurs, it will happen a long time after someone is infected.
If you think you may have TB, it’s important to see your doctor. They can arrange tests to see if you’re infected. If you do have the disease, people you have regular contact with will need to be tested too.
TB is treated with a combination of antibiotics, which need to be taken for at least 6 months. Sometimes longer courses are needed, such as for TB meningitis.
People usually begin to feel better 2–4 weeks after starting treatment.
You can’t catch TB from a person who has been taking the antibiotics for 2 weeks or more.
It’s very important to finish the course of antibiotics, or the disease will get worse again.
Babies at risk of catching tuberculosis can be given the BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin) immunisation when they’re born.
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, your baby is eligible for the BCG immunisation.
Which countries have a high TB rate?
The table in the following download has a more complete list of countries: BCG Vaccine – Information for Health Professionals (PDF, 237 KB).
Most people who are vaccinated against TB develop a small blister around the injection site. Within 3 months this should heal and form a scar.
Risks associated with tuberculosis:
TB can be a very serious disease, sometimes resulting in:
Source: Ministry of Health – Manatū Hauora
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