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Tuberculosis (TB)

Information about Tuberculosis (TB)

What is Tuberculosis (TB)?

Tuberculosis, or TB, is a disease caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria can attack any part of your body, but they usually attack the lungs. Tuberculosis was once the leading cause of death in the United States.

TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs or sneezes. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.

A person may be infected with tuberculosis without showing any signs or symptoms. In this case people are said to have latent TB and cannot spread TB. These people may or may not ever develop TB disease. In some cases the bacteria may remain inactive for a lifetime and never cause TB disease, however, in other people, especially people who have weak immune systems, the bacteria become active and cause TB disease.


People with TB can be treated and cured if they seek medical help. Even better, people who have latent TB infection but are not yet sick can take medicine so that they will never develop TB disease.

What are the symptoms of TB?

Symptoms of TB depend on where in the body the TB bacteria are growing. TB bacteria usually grow in the lungs. TB in the lungs may cause:

  • a bad cough that lasts longer than 2 weeks

  • pain in the chest

  • coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lungs)

Other symptoms of TB disease are:

  • weakness or fatigue

  • weight loss

  • no appetite

  • chills

  • fever

  • sweating at night

How can I get tested for TB?

A TB skin test can help you find out if you have latent TB infection. You can get a skin test at the health department or at your doctor’s office. You should get tested for TB if:

  • you have spent time with a person with known or suspected to have TB disease

  • you have HIV infection or another condition that compromises your immune system putting you at high risk for TB disease.

  • you think you might have TB disease

  • you are from a country where TB disease is very common (most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia)

  • you inject drugs

  • you live somewhere in the U.S. where TB disease is more common (homeless Shelters, migrant farm camps, prisons and jails, and some nursing homes)

A health care worker can give you the TB skin test. The health care worker will inject a small amount of testing fluid (called tuberculin) just under the skin on the lower part of your arm. After 2 or 3 days, the health care worker will measure your reaction to the test. You may have a small bump where the tuberculin was injected. The health care worker will measure this bump and tell you if your reaction to the test is positive or negative. A positive reaction usually means that you either have active or latent TB disease.

If you have a positive reaction to the skin test, your doctor or nurse will do other tests to see if you have TB disease. These tests usually include a chest x-ray and a test of the phlegm you cough up. Because the TB bacteria may be found somewhere besides your lungs, your doctor or nurse may check your blood or urine, or do other tests. If you have TB disease, you will need to take medicine to cure the disease. If you have latent TB infection medication is recommended to prevent the development of TB disease.

Tuberculosis Control

In coordination with the Douglas County Tuberculosis Sanatorium Board, the Douglas County Health Department provides tuberculosis screening and treatment for persons confirmed with active tuberculosis and preventative services for persons who have been exposed to TB but do not have an active disease. In 2002, there were 682 TB skin tests administered within the county.

The Douglas County Tuberculosis Sanatorium Board is composed of:

Chairman: Julian Thoman
Secretary/ Treasurer: Edie Griffith
County Board Representative: Dr. Zimmerman
County Board Representative: Tom Hetttinger

The information presented here is an adaptation of information from the Centers for Disease Control.
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