What is tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection caused by a type of bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It mainly affects the lungs, but it can affect any part of the body, including the abdomen glands, bones and nervous system.
Globally the disease is extremely common with millions of new infections and many deaths occurring yearly. The rate of disease varies widely from country to country, with the highest rates and most deaths occurring in developing countries for example Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia.
Tuberculosis is a serious condition, but it can be cured with antibiotic treatment. Vaccination is also available for prevention.1
The following is a summary about the disease. For further details speak to your local pharmacist or GP.
Tuberculosis is most commonly spread from person to person through the air by coughing and sneezing. The bacteria are carried in the air in tiny water droplets. They then begin to multiply in the lungs and the infection may progress into:
TB occurs in every part of the world. Regions with higher rates of TB include:
A map showing the rate TB (per 100 000 population) can be found here4. Vaccination is recommended for some travellers to countries with incidence rates at or above 40 cases per 100 000 population
Most TB infections are mild and asymptomatic. If the infection develops into active TB, symptoms may include:
Untreated TB infection can spread to various parts of the body – this is called miliary TB, and can affect many organs, including lungs, bones, liver, eyes and skin. Symptoms vary depending on which part of the body is affected:
Latent TB infection may reactivate in later life; particularly if an individual’s immune system has become weakened, for example by disease (e.g. HIV), certain medical treatments (e.g. cancer chemotherapy, corticosteroids) or in old age.6
While TB is a serious condition that can be fatal if left untreated, death is rare if the treatment is completed.
The usual treatment is:
After taking antibiotics for two weeks, most people are no longer infectious and feel better. However, it is important to complete the full course of the medications as prescribed otherwise the TB bacteria may become resistant to the antibiotics. This is potentially serious because it can be difficult to treat and will require a longer course of treatment with stronger antibiotics.
Travellers should avoid close contact with individuals known to have infectious pulmonary TB. Those at risk during their work (such as healthcare workers) should take appropriate infection control precautions that may include isolation and barrier nursing procedures.5
Country specific information can be found here.7
In the UK, vaccination against TB (BCG vaccine) forms part of the national immunisation programme and is targeted to high-risk individuals, including some travellers.
TB vaccine is recommended when travelling for longer than 3 months to areas which are high risk for TB or where there is a resistance to TB medication. This includes:
TB vaccine should be offered to those in the following occupational groups, with direct patient contact or contact with infectious materials:
BCG vaccine contains a live attenuated strain derived from M. bovis. BCG vaccine does not contain thiomersal or any other preservatives.
BCG is not usually recommended for people aged over 16 years unless the risk of exposure is great (e.g. healthcare or laboratory workers who are at occupational risk).5
Although immunity may wane over time, reinforcing doses are not recommended.5
This information is taken from trusted third party websites, NaTHNaC (Travel Health Pro) and EMIS (Patient info) and use of all information has been licenced under the Open Government Licence http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3/.
Although the materials are being used/replicated under the provisions of the Open Government Licence this in no way represents endorsement of Traveljab.co.uk by NaTHNaC, Emis, Public Health England, the NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.
Travel Health Pro (NaTHNaC): Country information