Travellers

Travel Health Information Sheets

Updated January 2012

Tuberculosis

What is tuberculosis?

Where is it found?

What are the symptoms?

What is my risk?

How do I reduce my risk?

Is there a vaccine?

Can TB be treated?

Links

What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious infection caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB usually affects the lungs, causing long-lasting pneumonia, but can affect any part of your body, including your brain. If untreated, TB can be fatal. However, it is very rare for tourists and travellers to catch TB.

 

Where is it found?

TB is found all over the world, with the highest number of infected people in Africa and Asia.  

Worldwide TB Map

Check to see if you are visiting a country where TB is common on the NaTHNaC Country Information Pages.

 

View larger image (will open in new window)

What are the symptoms?

The most common type of TB is in the lungs (pulmonary TB). This spreads when someone with infectious TB coughs and you breathe in their respiratory droplets. TB in other parts of the body (such as your bones or kidneys) is not contagious person to person.

Symptoms of pulmonary TB include:

 

  • A persistent cough.

  • Fever, especially in the evenings.

  • Excessive sweating at night.

  • Losing weight without eating less.

  • Extreme tiredness.

 

Symptoms sometimes do not appear until months or even years after your first contact with somebody with active TB.

What is my risk?

Prolonged contact with infected people, such as living or working in a country where TB is common, is needed to catch TB (see map and the NaTHNaC Country Information Pages).

Visiting family and friends, living in very crowded conditions, or having a job involving close contact with potentially infected people, such as working in healthcare or aid situations increases your chance of exposure. Being in prison anywhere in the world, including the UK, also raises your risk of catching TB.

Short trips overseas and journeys on public transport are very unlikely to put you at risk. There has been concern about TB spreading during long flights. Whilst research has shown this is possible, it is very uncommon and is usually only a risk during flights of 8 hours or longer. Your risk of catching TB on a plane is probably less than catching it in other confined spaces. Very rarely you can catch a type of TB from unpasteurised milk or dairy products.

You are more likely to get TB if you have a health problem like HIV that affects your immune system. Infection with HIV and TB at the same time can make both illnesses worse and can be difficult to treat.

How do I reduce my risk?

                                 

  • Try to avoid contact with anyone with an active TB infection of the lung.

  • If you are looking after someone with TB, follow infection control guidelines carefully.

  • If you think you have been exposed to TB or have any symptoms, see a doctor for advice as soon as possible.

  • Avoid unpasteurised milk and dairy products.

 Is there a vaccine?

There is a vaccine against TB called the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine. This vaccine does not give good protection once you are age 16 years or older. As it contains live TB bacteria, it is not suitable for anyone whose immune system is not working properly.

In the UK the BCG vaccine is no longer given routinely to school leavers. It is given to children in parts of the UK where TB is common, or to children with parents or close relatives from countries where TB is more common.

Can TB be treated?

Yes, but treatment is not always straightforward. You need to take a combination of drugs, usually for six months or longer. As these drugs can have side effects, you will careful monitoring by your doctor. Some types of TB have developed drug resistance and can be difficult to treat effectively.

Links:

Department of Health: Tuberculosis - the disease, its treatment and prevention.

Health Protection Agency: Tuberculosis (TB).

NHS Choices: Tuberculosis.

World Health Organization: Tuberculosis