Active Tuberculosis

What is Active Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infection caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. When a person has active TB, it means they have an active infection that is replicating in their body and can be spread to other people. When someone has inactive TB, the bacteria is present in their body but their immune system is keeping it in check and it cannot be spread to other people. Active TB is contagious and needs to be treated with antibiotics as soon as possible. It can be fatal if left untreated.

Symptoms of Active Tuberculosis

The most common symptom of active TB is a persistent cough that lasts for more than three weeks and that produces mucus or blood. Other symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Coughing up mucus or blood

Diagnosis of Active Tuberculosis

The diagnosis of active TB is made based on the patient's symptoms, as well as the results of laboratory tests, including a tuberculin skin test and chest X-ray. The tuberculin skin test is used to detect an immune response to the TB bacteria. A positive test result indicates a recent or past infection with TB. A chest X-ray may be done to check for signs of active TB, such as an enlarged lymph node, fluid in the lungs, or other changes in the lungs.

Treatment of Active Tuberculosis

Treatment for active TB typically includes a combination of antibiotics taken for at least six to nine months. It is important that the medication is taken exactly as prescribed in order for it to effectively treat the infection. In addition to medication, the patient may need to receive supplemental oxygen and may need to be admitted to a hospital for care.

Prevention of Active Tuberculosis

The primary means of preventing the spread of active TB is prompt diagnosis and treatment. Other measures that can help reduce the risk of infection include:

  • Getting vaccinated against TB infection (BCG vaccine)
  • Avoiding close contact with people who have active TB
  • Maintaining good ventilation in the home, workplace, and other public settings
  • Practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands regularly and covering the mouth while coughing or sneezing