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FAQs

All the information about TB on our website is approved by medical professionals. We hope you find it useful and reassuring. Unfortunately, we are unable to answer questions about individual TB cases. If you are concerned about TB, it is important that you contact a doctor for advice.

Is there any way I can avoid TB?

TB is an ‘opportunistic infection’, which means you are more likely to get it when you are run down or your immune system is weakened. This may happen through illness (such as HIV), stress or if personal circumstances mean you can’t take as much care of yourself as you usually would.

Some of the best ways to help prevent TB are to do with how you look after yourself. Try to eat a variety of healthy foods, get enough sleep and protect your body by limiting the amount of harmful substances you consume, such as cigarettes, drugs and alcohol.  Good hygiene, fresh air and sunlight can also all help prevent the spread of TB.

My father has TB. Is there any way I can catch it from him?

While it is possible to catch TB from a family member, you should be aware that:

  • only TB of the lungs or throat is infectious, so if someone has another type of TB you cannot catch it from them.
  • TB is a bacterium, so it is not spread in the same way as a cold virus. It cannot be spread through sharing clothes, bedding or objects like cups and cutlery, but you actually have to inhale the TB bacteria that someone with infectious TB coughs out.
  • most healthy adults have a strong enough immune system to completely kill off the bacteria if they breathe it in, meaning they will not develop TB. About a third of people’s immune systems do not kill off the bacteria completely but control the infection enough for it to remain asleep (latent TB). Only 10% of these latent cases later develop into active illness, meaning 90% do not.

TB is not as infectious as many think. While the illness can affect anyone, it is more likely to affect people with poor nutrition and poor general health.

I have TB. What can I do to stop my family from catching it from me?

If you are diagnosed with TB in the lungs or throat you may be contagious until you have been taking your treatment for two to three weeks. Good hygiene, fresh air and sunlight can all help prevent the spread of TB.

To help prevent the spread of TB to your family or friends you should:

  • avoid face-to-face contact as much as possible – so don’t go to social gatherings or places where people get together, such as places of worship – use the phone or internet to keep in touch
  • cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • open curtains to ensure a good supply of UV light to help kill the bacteria
  • open windows to let in fresh air, which prevents bacteria from building up.

Only return to work, school or college when your TB nurse advises you are well enough and that your TB is no longer contagious.

Is medication the only way to cure TB?

Yes – there is no proven natural cure for TB. But good nutrition and a healthy way of life will help TB treatment to work as well as possible.

There is evidence that people who are vitamin D deficient are more vulnerable to developing infections. So taking vitamin D supplements with the recommended TB treatment can help boost the immune system, which helps in fighting illness. Speak to your consultant about supplements if you think you may have a vitamin deficiency.

You need to take the full course of drugs prescribed to you, in order to protect your health and that of the people around you. TB drug treatment is very successful if taken correctly and is designed to ensure that all TB bacteria is killed off.

I’m pregnant and have to take TB medication. What are the risks? And can my baby catch TB from me?

  • Make sure you tell your doctor or nurse if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, so they can check the medicine being used is safe.
  • Standard TB medicines (Rifampicin, Ethambutol, Isoniazid and Pyrazinamide) have not been associated with harmful foetal effects. However, supplements may be useful for your baby during breastfeeding.
  • Other medicines, such as Streptomycin, Capreomycin, Kanamycin, Tobramycin, Prothionamide and Ethionamide are not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
  • Only in extremely rare cases can a baby catch TB from its mother in the womb. If TB is only diagnosed after the birth, the baby would need to be kept apart from mum until she is non-infectious or the baby has been vaccinated against TB.
  • Please speak to your TB nurse and midwife if you have any concerns.

Is there a vaccination against TB?

Yes, the BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin) is a weakened strain of TB bacteria which builds up immunity, and encourages the body to fight TB if infected. Although the BCG gives some people protection against TB, it cannot prevent everyone who comes into contact with the bacteria from getting ill.

The BCG vaccination is thought to protect up to 80% of people for a maximum of 15 years and is not generally given over the age of 35.

Until a better vaccine is developed the best way to prevent TB is to make sure people know the symptoms so they can visit a doctor and get diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

Can my child have the BCG vaccination?

The BCG is no longer offered to children in secondary schools in the UK. It has been replaced with a targeted programme for babies, children and young adults at higher risk of TB.

In changes to the BCG programme, in 2005, the Department of Health identified risk factors for TB in children as:

  • being born or having lived in areas where there is a high rate of TB
  • having a parent or grandparent who was born in a country where there is a high rate of TB.

Where children meet these risk factors, the programme recommends that babies under 12 months have the BCG, and that older children may be tested and vaccinated with BCG if needed. If required, your midwife or health visitor should automatically arrange a BCG.

Please talk to your health visitor, practice nurse or GP if you feel your child is at increased risk and they have not been vaccinated.

The BCG is not recommended as a routine travel vaccination. If children under 16 are going to live in a country with a high rate of TB, for more than three months, they may be advised to have a skin test to see if BCG is needed.

Can I have the BCG?

The Department of Health only recommends the BCG for certain groups of adults, and only then for those under 35 years of age. These include:

  • Close contacts of people diagnosed with TB in the lungs or throat (in which case you should be contacted by your local public health services. See your GP if not).
  • Occupational groups such as those working in healthcare, with the elderly, in hostels for the homeless and refuges, laboratory staff, prison staff and veterinary staff. See your HR department if you are in one of these groups.

My child has been offered the BCG vaccination but I have heard it can be dangerous. Is this true?

The safety of vaccines is considered very carefully. When vaccines are offered it is because the risk of not having them (ie the risk of harm from an illness) is considered significantly higher than the risk of harm from the vaccine. In the UK only children who are at higher risk of catching TB are offered the vaccine.

No medical intervention (including vaccines), are 100% safe for everyone. Some people experience side effects from the BCG vaccination, ranging from abscesses at the site of the injection, to swelling in the lymph nodes. Extremely rarely, the vaccination can cause BCG disease, which can be fatal. This is most likely to happen in people with damaged immune systems, which is why the vaccine should not be given to anyone who is HIV positive.

I had TB ten years ago – am I safe from it now?

TB treatment is very successful and is designed to kill all TB bacteria, provided that all the tablets are taken in the way the doctors instructed.

However, it is possible to catch TB more than once in your lifetime. TB is caused by exposure to TB bacteria, so if you breathe in this bacteria again at some later time, you may become ill again, especially if you have a weakened immune system. The best protection is to keep your immune system strong with nutritious food and a healthy lifestyle.

My doctor wants my children to take TB tablets but they are perfectly well. Why do they need to take them?

It sounds like your children have been diagnosed with latent TB. This would mean they have the TB bacteria inside them, but their body is keeping it under control, although they may become ill later on.

Children are treated for latent TB, because they have under-developed immune systems, which means that they are more likely to become ill with TB than adults.

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