TB (Tuberculosis) Service

TB (Tuberculosis) is an infectious disease that usually effects the lungs, although it can affect any part of the body.

TB is curable with a course of special antibiotics.

About 150 years ago it caused about one in eight of all deaths in the UK, but by the 1980’s with better housing and nutrition and effective treatments, it had become uncommon in the UK. However, TB had not been wiped out completely. Over the past 20 years, numbers in the UK have been rising slowly.

TB can only be caught directly from someone with infectious TB in their lungs or throat. Although TB is spread through the air when people who have the disease cough or sneeze, it takes close and lengthy contact with an infectious person to catch the disease. If you are a close contact of someone who has been disgnosed with TB and there is a risk you may have the infection, you will be offered a check up.

TB can be treated with special antibiotics, once treatment starts you will begin to feel better after about two to four weeks, but the treatment has to continue for at least six months. It is vitally important to complete the course of antibiotics, if you don’t the infection may return in a form that is resistant to the usual drugs and be more difficult to treat and you may pass on this more serious form to your family and friends.

Not everyone with TB of the lungs is infectious, and as long as they are taking the proper treatment most people that were infectious become non-infectious pretty quickly – usually about after two weeks.

While anyone can catch TB, some groups of people are more at risk than others.

These include:

  • Children with parents or grandparents whose country of origin has a high rate of TB, such as many countries in Asia, Africa and eastern Europe
  • People who are living in unhealthy or over-crowded conditions, including those who are homeless or sleeping rough
  • People who have lived, worked or stayed for a long time in a country with a high rate of TB
  • People who may have been exposed to TB in their youth when the disease was more common in this country
  • People who are unable to fight off infection (immunosuppressed) due to illness or treatment
  • People who do not eat enough to stay healthy

The most common symptoms of TB include:

  • Persistent cough that gets progressively worse over several weeks
  • Loss of weight for no obvious reason
  • Fever and heavy night sweats
  • A general and unusual sense of tiredness and being unwell
  • Coughing up blood

As all these may also be signs of other problems talk to your GP or nurse if you are worried.

There is a vaccine (BCG) that has been used for many years to help protect against TB. BCG works best to prevent the more serious forms of TB in children. However, the BCG vaccine does not prevent TB in all cases, so you still need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of TB.

BCG vaccine is offered to:

  • All babies and infants under 12 months of age with a parent or grandparent who was born in a country with an annual incidence of TB of 40/100,000 of the population or greater
  • Previously unvaccinated children under 16 years of age whose parents or grandparents were born in or come from a country with an annual incidence of TB of 10/100,000 or greater
  • Previously unvaccinated new immigrants from high prevalence TB countries
  • Previously unvaccinated 16-35 year olds in certain occupational groups, such as healthcare workers and others likely to come into contact with people with TB
  • People who have been in close contact with someone with infectious TB

For more information on protecting yourself, your family and friends against TB, you can talk to your GP, Health Visitor, School Nurse or contact TB Alert.

TB Alert is a charity dedicated to raising awareness about TB and fighting TB worldwide:

TB Alert
22 Tiverton Road
NW10 3HL

Telephone: (0845) 456 0995
Email: info@tbalert.org