TUBERCULOSIS (TB) – The disease, its treatment and prevention

What is tuberculosis?


Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs, although it can affect other parts of the body too. TB is not a common disease but, over the last 20 years, the number of cases has been rising. Between 400 and 500 new cases of TB are diagnosed in Scotland every year. This is approximately one person in every 10,000 of the population. TB is usually completely curable with a course of special antibiotics.

How is TB spread and am I likely to get infected?

TB is usually spread when people with infectious TB in their lungs or throat cough
or sneeze. However, it usually takes close and lengthy contact with an infectious person to catch the disease. Not everyone with TB in their lungs is infectious. Once they are taking the right treatment, most people who are infectious become non-infectious after about two weeks.

Are some people more at risk than others?

Yes. Anyone can catch TB, but you are more at risk if you:

• live with someone who has infectious TB or have been in lengthy close contact with them
• are living in unhealthy or overcrowded conditions, are homeless or sleeping rough
• may have been exposed to TB when you were young, when TB was more common in this country
• are dependent on drugs or alcohol
• have spent a long time in a country with a high rate of TB, such as south-east Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and some countries in eastern Europe

•have been in prison

•have parents or grandparents who come from a country which has a high rate of TB

• are unable to fight infection due to illness (e.g. HIV infection) or treatment
• do not eat enough to stay healthy

How will I know if I’ve got TB?

The most common symptoms of TB include:
• a persistent moist cough that lasts for several weeks
• losing weight for no obvious reason
• fever and unusual sweats at night
• a general and unusual sense of tiredness and being unwell
• coughing up blood.

All of these symptoms may also be signs of other illnesses, but if you think you or
someone else has TB you should talk to your GP or call the NHS inform helpline on 0800 22 44 88 (textphone 18001 0800 22 44 88; the helpline also provides an interpreting service).
If a health professional suspects you have TB, you will be offered a check-up at a special TB clinic.

If I have TB, can I be cured?

Yes. TB is treated with special antibiotics. You will usually begin to feel better about two to four weeks after starting the antibiotics. The antibiotics have to be taken for at least six months in order to cure the disease. If you stop taking the antibiotics before six months, the TB may become more serious and much more difficult to treat. You may pass on this more serious form of the infection to your family and friends. If TB is not treated properly, it may lead to death.

How can TB be prevented?

The most important and effective way to prevent TB spreading is to diagnose people with the disease as soon as possible and make sure they have a full course of correct treatment. That is why it is so important to be aware of the symptoms.

Can you catch TB on the bus or train?

This is unlikely because you usually need to be in close contact with an infected person or persons for a long time to catch TB. Using public transport and going about your normal daily business does not put you at risk of getting TB.

Can you catch TB at school?

If a child in school were found to have TB then a risk assessment would be carried out and appropriate screening would be organised to make sure no one else is infected and to identify the source of infection.

For further information on TB call the NHS inform helpline on 0800 22 44 88
(textphone 18001 0800 22 44 88; the helpline also provides an interpreting service), or contact your GP.

There is more information about TB and BCG at

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Please contact 0131 536 5500 or email

Leaflet Tuberculosis NHS