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Fact sheet: Tuberculosis is an infection caused by a bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis
Tuberculosis (TB) is an infection caused by a bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
TB usually infects the lungs. TB can also infect other parts of the body, including the kidneys, spine and brain. Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. As a result, two TB-related conditions exist: TB Disease and latent TB infection.
Tuberculosis is a notifiable condition1
Since May 2022, cases of TB have been identified in some Aboriginal communities in South Australia. Visit the Tuberculosis (TB) cases in Aboriginal communities page for information and resources.
SA Tuberculosis services (SA TB services) provides state-wide and regional services for tuberculosis patients. Visit the SA Tuberculosis services page for more information.
TB disease occurs when TB bacteria become active. The active bacteria begin to grow and start to damage the lungs or other parts of the body.
Some people develop TB disease soon after infection, while others develop TB disease later when their immune system becomes weak and they progress from latent TB to TB disease.
Latent TB is when the bacteria in the body are “asleep” and this means the person has the TB bacteria in his/her body but is not sick, does not have symptoms and cannot spread the infection.
Tuberculosis may last for a lifetime as an infection, never developing into disease.
When a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings, the bacteria get into the air. Persons who breathe in the air containing these TB germs can become infected. Early treatment can prevent TB from spreading to other people.
Anyone who has come into contact with a person who has TB of the lungs or throat is at risk for getting TB infection, which may later develop into TB disease. This is more likely to happen in people with weakened immune systems. It is not possible to catch TB disease or latent TB infection from drinking glasses, cutlery, crockery, sheets, clothes or the telephone.
People with latent TB infection cannot pass the infection onto other people.
Symptoms of TB depend on where in the body the TB bacteria is growing.
TB disease in the lungs may cause:
Other symptoms of TB disease may be:
Latent TB has no symptoms.
The diagnosis of TB disease is made with medical assessment and help of various tests.
A chest x-ray is done to look for any damage to the lungs.
It is confirmed when Mycobacterium tuberculosis is grown from sputum and or fluid from the lungs.
TB in other parts of the body is confirmed on growing the bacteria from the site of disease. This could be from for urine, gastric fluids, blood or body tissue.
The diagnosis is confirmed when Mycobacterium tuberculosis is grown from sputum or other specimens.
Tests to diagnose latent tuberculosis include:
Sometimes repeat testing is needed to check if TB exposure has caused the infection.
(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)
Many people with TB infection never develop TB disease.
(time during which an infected person can infect others)
People with symptomatic TB in the lungs or throat may be infectious until they have taken their TB medications for at least two weeks.
SA Tuberculosis Services is responsible for monitoring the follow-up and treatment of all cases of TB disease in South Australia.
Clinicians should notify SA Tuberculosis Services of any person suspected of having TB.
For active TB, you will be prescribed a combination of targeted antibiotics which you must take for at least 6 months or more, as directed by your doctor.
For latent TB infection, your doctor can prescribe tablets to reduce the risk of you developing TB disease.
Prevention of TB
People with TB disease of the lungs or throat must not attend childcare, preschool, school and/or work until treatment has been given and a medical certificate is received from the medical officers treating the TB.
When a person is diagnosed with TB disease, the SA Tuberculosis Service will offer TB screening to family and close contacts. Early and proper treatment prevents TB from spreading to other people. Bacille Calmette- Guerin (BCG) vaccination is an effective vaccine in reducing the risk of TB meningitis and widespread disease in children aged less than 5 years in countries of high TB prevalence. However, it has limited usage in countries where the incidence of TB is low and is not recommended for general use in Australia as its overall usefulness is low.
The vaccine may be recommended for:
1 – In South Australia the law requires doctors and laboratories to report some infections or diseases to SA Health. These infections or diseases are commonly referred to as 'notifiable conditions'.