Tuberculosis – A guide for students at the University of Manitoba

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious disease, one that can spread among classmates, roommates and friends. Yet, TB is easily cured with medication. Take care of yourself, and your friends, by having any symptoms checked out by a doctor as soon as possible.

 

Symptoms of Active TB include:

Cough – A cough that lasts longer than three weeks

Blood – Coughing up blood in the sputum (phlegm)

Weight loss – Unexplained weight loss

Sweat – Night sweats

Fever – Fever lasting more than two weeks

Appetite – Loss of appetite

Pain –Pain in the chest

Weakness & Fatigue – Unexplained weakness or feeling very tired

 

What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by bacteria (germs) that are spread from person to person through the air.  TB bacteria get into the air when someone with active, infectious TB disease coughs, sneezes, sings, plays a wind instrument, or to a lesser degree, speaks. People who breathe in the air containing these TB bacteria can become infected with TB.  If the body’s defense system doesn’t kill the TB bacteria, they can remain alive but inactive in the body – this is called latent TB infection. If the TB germs are not killed, the bacteria become active and will multiply and grow in the body. This is called active TB disease.   If you have active TB, you will feel sick and may spread the bacteria to other people.

 

What Is Active TB?

When people have active TB, the TB bacteria are multiplying and causing damage in the body. These people can pass TB on to other people who share their airspace. Active TB can develop anywhere in the body, but it usually develops in the lungs.

 

Testing for active TB:

If active TB is suspected, a chest X-ray will be done and sputum (phlegm) samples will be sent to the lab.

 

What happens if someone develops active TB?

Untreated TB can cause serious illness and death. A person with active TB can also spread it to others and therefore MUST take treatment. The treatment is usually given for several months and usually involves a few different medications until the TB is cured. If a person completes their medications for active TB, there is usually not any long term damage.

 

What is latent TB? (also called inactive TB, sleeping TB and quiet TB)

After people get infected with TB, usually their immune system makes the TB germs “go to sleep”. This is called latent TB infection. These people do not have any symptoms of TB disease and cannot spread the TB germs to anyone else. These sleeping TB bacteria may occasionally “wake up” in the future and cause active TB.

If someone has latent TB infection, usually diagnosed through a test called a Mantoux test, their health care provider may recommend they take medicine to kill the latent TB, preventing them from developing active TB in the future. Not everyone with latent TB requires treatment and the decision about taking the treatment will be based on their risks of developing active TB and their risks of getting complications (side effects) from the medication.

 

To read more about TB, follow these links:

Winnipeg Free Press – The Forgotten Disease 

Health Canada – It’s Your Health – Tuberculosis 

Public Health Agency of Canada - Tuberculosis Fact Sheets   

World Health Organization – Tuberculosis

CBC News – Anatomy of a Killer

 

Please see your doctor or health care provider, or contact University Health Service, if you have any questions or concerns about TB.

University Health Services
In person:

104 A University Centre – Fort Garry campus

By phone:
474-8411 

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