Te mate kohi Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body. It can be inactive for many years before it becomes active. Tuberculosis can be very serious for those who get it.

How tuberculosis spreads

Tuberculosis spreads through coughing, sneezing or spitting. The bacteria go 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. Someone with active tuberculosis can infect more than 1 in 4 of their close contacts. Close contact with tuberculosis has a high risk of infection.

If someone with tuberculosis has been taking antibiotics for 2 weeks they cannot give it to someone else.

Symptoms of tuberculosis

Not all people with tuberculosis will get sick.

Symptoms of tuberculosis can be similar to other illnesses. The most common symptoms of active tuberculosis disease are:

  • a cough lasting 3 weeks or more
  • coughing up thick mucus or blood
  • tiredness
  • night sweats
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • swollen glands, usually in your neck
  • chest pain.

Symptoms that develop later

Coughing up blood is a widely known symptom of pulmonary (lung) tuberculosis. But, if this happens, it will be a long time after you are infected.

Tuberculosis can stay inactive in your body for many years before it develops. This is called latent tuberculosis infection.

Latent tuberculosis infection

Even though you feel well and healthy, your healthcare provider may still advise treatment to make sure you do not develop tuberculosis disease.

Who to contact for medical advice

If you have symptoms that you are worried about:

  • contact your usual doctor or healthcare provider
  • call Healthline for free advice 0800 611 116
  • call 111 for an ambulance in an emergency.

Complications of tuberculosis

While life-threatening complications from tuberculosis are rare now, it can still be a very serious disease.

Tuberculosis can cause:

  • meningitis
  • major bleeding (haemorrhage) from the lungs or other organs
  • widespread tuberculosis nodules (disseminated tuberculosis)
  • death.

It is particularly dangerous for older people, pēpi, young tamariki, and people with weakened immune systems.

Diagnosing tuberculosis

If you think you may have tuberculosis or have been in contact with someone with tuberculosis, it is important to see a healthcare provider or your doctor.

They can arrange tests to see if you are infected.

Treatment for tuberculosis

Tuberculosis can be treated with antibiotics. Most of the time antibiotics cure tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis 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 tuberculosis meningitis.

People usually begin to feel better 2 to 4 weeks after starting treatment. They are no longer contagious after 2 weeks of antibiotics.

It is important to finish the treatment or the disease will get worse again and become resistant to antibiotics.

Staying home

If you have tuberculosis or have been in contact with someone who has tuberculosis, public health services will contact you to tell you what you need to do.

They will support you with advice on how to keep yourself and your whānau safe during your illness.

You may have to isolate at home or in hospital to avoid giving it to others.

If you do not hear from them, phone Healthline for more information.

Call Healthline: 0800 611 116

Preventing tuberculosis

Tuberculosis vaccines are normally only given to pēpi or tamariki under 5 years old who are at risk of catching tuberculosis from somewhere they go or someone they live with.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine for tuberculosis is not recommended for the general population. This is because the rates of tuberculosis are low in most parts of the country.

Find out more about the free vaccine, who needs it and when it is given.

Tuberculosis (TB) vaccine

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