Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection that mainly affects the lungs; it is spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person.
- Only TB of the lungs or throat can be infectious.
- TB can affect any part of the body including kidneys, brain or bones. This is called Non-Pulmonary Tuberculosis and is not infectious.
- People get TB when they breathe in the TB bacteria.
TB Is spread through the air, but most people won't get ill because:
- TB bacteria are only in the air after someone with infectious TB coughs or sneezes.
- You would need to spend many hours close to a person with infectious TB to breathe in enough bacteria to be at risk.
- Most people's immune systems are strong enough to kill off TB bacteria.
You cannot get TB by sharing cutlery, bedding or clothes. Those most at risk of contracting TB are those that live or who are staying for a period of time in a household with someone with the infectious form of TB.
Children and young people returning from countries that have a high number of people with the infectious form of TB may also be at risk. Children under the age of 14 rarely develop the infectious form of TB.
Symptoms of tuberculosis
50% of children and young people will have no symptoms. Those that do are likely to have:
- A low temperature lasting weeks rather than days
- A cough which persists for three weeks
- Loss of appetite and night sweats
Treatments for tuberculosis
If a child or young person is thought to have TB a number of tests will be carried out to confirm if they have the infection and if they are infectious to others.
Treatment consists of a long course of antibiotics lasting at least six months. It is really important to take the full course of antibiotics to kill the TB bacteria completely. Although patients may feel better, if they do not finish their treatment the TB is still in their body and the symptoms may come back and they may pass it on to others. They could also become seriously ill or develop drug-resistant TB. TB can be fatal. Finishing treatment is the only way to cure tuberculosis completely.
Cases of drug-resistant TB are still low in the UK, but increasing. Unfinished treatment is one cause, drug-resistant TB can also be passed on to others. TB is a 'notifiable' disease which means that the health protection agency should be aware of local cases. They will work with schools and nurseries to help decide if screening of other students or children needs to take place. Information on this can be found in the helpful leaflet Tuberculosis and Children. You can find this in the resources section of the website.