A man with Tuberculosis coughs at home.
Preventive Care

Everything to Know about Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis, also called TB, is a contagious illness that often affects the lungs. It’s caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is thought to be over three million years old. When someone with TB talks, laughs, coughs, or sneezes, the germs are spread through the air and can infect those nearby.

Unfortunately, TB cases are on the rise in the United States. Last year, almost 10,000 people were infected, up 16% from 2022. Globally, Tuberculosis still kills over a million people every year. By learning about TB, its symptoms, and treatments, you can help keep your family protected.

Here’s everything to know.

Types of Tuberculosis

Not all TB infections are the same. Depending on timing and risk factors, the effects will vary from person to person:

  1. Primary TB — This is the first stage after infection. Sometimes, no symptoms will be present while your body works to fight the germs. In other cases, you may experience flu-like symptoms.
  2. Latent TB — This occurs when the immune system stops the germs from spreading. You have the bacteria in your body, but you won’t be contagious or experience symptoms. Because the germs are still alive, the infection can become active again in the future.
  3. Active TB — If your body is unable to block the bacteria’s spread, you’ll experience symptoms and be contagious to others.
  4. Extrapulmonary TB — While Tuberculosis usually affects the lungs, it can also spread to other parts of the body. Your symptoms will evolve depending on where it travels.
A woman with Tuberculosis sits in bed.

Tuberculosis Symptoms

When a primary or active TB infection occurs, common symptoms can include:

  • Persistent cough for 3 weeks or longer
  • Coughing up blood or mucus
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Excessive sweating, especially at night

Higher-Risk Groups

While anyone can become infected, some people are more likely to develop active TB. This is true for those who were recently exposed to the bacteria that causes TB, as well as those with medical conditions that weaken the immune system.

High-risk individuals include: 

  • People who have been close to someone with contagious TB.
  • People who have been to countries where TB is common.
  • Kids under 5 who test positive for TB.
  • Groups where TB spreads easily, like homeless people, those who use injection drugs, or individuals with HIV.
  • Healthcare workers or people who live or work in high-risk settings like hospitals, homeless shelters, jails, nursing homes, and homes for people with HIV.
  • Babies and young kids, who have weaker immune systems.
  • People with:
    • HIV infections
    • Substance abuse problems
    • Silicosis
    • Diabetes
    • Serious kidney problems
    • Low body weight
    • Organ transplants
    • Head and neck cancer
    • Medical treatments like corticosteroids or organ transplants
    • Special treatments for rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn’s disease

Getting Tested

There are two tests used to detect Tuberculosis bacteria in the body — the TB skin test and the TB blood test. A positive result confirms that you have been infected with Tuberculosis, but it will not tell you if you have a latent or active TB infection.

To confirm if you have a Tuberculosis infection you will need a complete medical evaluation with additional testing such as a chest x-ray and sputum culture test.


BCG, or Bacille Calmette-Guérin, is a vaccine that helps prevent the spread of Tuberculosis. In countries where TB cases are common, the BCG vaccine is often given to infants and young children. Because the risk of Tuberculosis is low in the United States, most of the population has not been vaccinated. For Americans, vaccination should only be administered to certain individuals who meet specific criteria, and they should talk to a TB expert first.

Treating Tuberculosis

If you’re diagnosed with latent or active TB, you should seek treatment promptly. Remember, each person's treatment may vary depending on their condition. 

Growing Healthy with AltaMed

From Tuberculosis to COVID-19 to the flu, AltaMed is your partner in preventing infections and growing healthy. With our Find a Doctor tool, you can search for a primary care providers and specialists close to home.

Learn how to get started with AltaMed or call us at (888) 499-9303.

Get started with AltaMed

See how AltaMed Health Services can help your family grow healthy.

Learn More

Everything to Know about Tuberculosis