What is Tuberculosis and how do I protect myself?

April 10, 2015 by Kimberly McCay

The latest tuberculosis outbreak happened on April 10th in Jackson, Mississippi. Health officials report that a Peco Plant employee was diagnosed with TB, but tell us the person is not at work. They said there is not a public health risk from this case. Unlike this single outbreak, the recent outbreaks at schools in California and Kansas exposed hundreds of children and adults to a potentially fatal bacterial infection. These numerous cases that continuously pop up demonstrate that tuberculosis continues to pose a grave threat to the public’s health.

What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attacks the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.

How do you get Tuberculosis?

TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected. TB is not spread by shaking someones hand, sharing toothbrushes, sharing food or drink, or touching bed linens or toilet seats.

What are the symptoms of Tuberculosis?

A person who has tuberculosis could experience any or all of the following: a bad cough that lasts three weeks or longer, pain in the chest, weakness or fatigue, coughing up blood or sputum, weight loss, loss of appetite, chills, fever and night sweats.

How do I protect myself from Tuberculosis?

Inhaling TB bacteria does not immediately lead to serious illness. The human immune system usually surrounds and seals off the invading germs, preventing them from attacking the rest of the body. An infected person can host TB like this for years or even decades, exhibiting no outward symptoms.

If you test positive for latent TB infection, your doctor may advise you to take medications to reduce your risk of developing active tuberculosis. The only type of tuberculosis that is contagious is the active variety, when it affects the lungs. So if you can prevent your latent tuberculosis from becoming active, you won’t transmit tuberculosis to anyone else.

Protect your family and friends:

If you have active TB, keep your germs to yourself. It generally takes a few weeks of treatment with TB medications before you’re not contagious anymore. Follow these tips to help keep your friends and family from getting sick:

  • Stay home. Don’t go to work or school or sleep in a room with other people during the first few weeks of treatment for active tuberculosis.
  • Ventilate the room. Tuberculosis germs spread more easily in small closed spaces where air doesn’t move. If it’s not too cold outdoors, open the windows and use a fan to blow indoor air outside.
  • Cover your mouth. Use a tissue to cover your mouth anytime you laugh, sneeze or cough. Put the dirty tissue in a bag, seal it and throw it away.
  • Wear a mask. Wearing a surgical mask when you’re around other people during the first three weeks of treatment may help lessen the risk of transmission.

Finish your entire course of medication

This is the most important step you can take to protect yourself and others from tuberculosis. When you stop treatment early or skip doses, TB bacteria have a chance to develop mutations that allow them to survive the most potent TB drugs. The resulting drug-resistant strains are much more deadly and difficult to treat.


In countries where tuberculosis is more common, infants often are vaccinated with bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine because it can prevent severe tuberculosis in children. The BCG vaccine isn’t recommended for general use in the United States because it isn’t very effective in adults. Dozens of new TB vaccines are in various stages of development and testing.

In 2014, there were slightly more than 9,400 TB cases in the United States, a rate of three cases per 100,000 people. That’s about 2 percent lower than the TB rate in 2013, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, “This decline in the rate of TB was the smallest decrease in more than a decade and suggests the need for ongoing evaluation of TB elimination strategies overall and within high-risk populations,” the CDC researchers wrote.

According to the CDC, tuberculosis is more common in certain groups, particularly foreign-born people, who have a TB rate 13 times higher than those born in the United States. Compared to whites, the TB rate is 29 times higher among Asians and eight times higher among blacks and Hispanics.

Despite the increased risk among certain groups of people, anyone can get TB. Exposure to the disease can occur in any location where people are in close contact with each other.

As always, stay up to date with the current health conditions and always look up travel destinations up to 4 weeks before travel to prepare.

For more information on Tuberculosis visit the CDC’s website http://www.cdc.gov/tb/default.htm or tweet us a question @ShepardMedical.


Shepard Medical Products has been an industry leader in the field of Infection Protection for the medical and food industries since 1986. Throughout the company’s history, Shepard has enjoyed progressive, steady growth by providing the highest quality, infection control solutions to our customers.

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