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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Tuberculosis (TB)

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infection caused by a bacterium (germ) called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It usually affects a person's lungs, though it can also affect other parts of their body.

It can be passed from person to person through coughs and sneezes. But you need to live or work closely with an infected person to catch the disease.

TB can be a serious disease, but antibiotics can usually cure it.

TB is very common in many parts of the world. That is why everyone from overseas who wishes to live in New Zealand is checked for active or previous TB infections.

A small number of people born in New Zealand get TB.

The main symptoms of TB are a cough lasting for three weeks or more, tiredness, night sweats, weight loss and swollen glands (usually in your neck).

TB is usually diagnosed from a chest X-ray and sputum testing.

TB is treated with antibiotics which need to be taken for at least six months. It’s very important to finish the course of antibiotics or the disease may come back again, and the bacteria may become resistant to the antibiotics.

TB can stay inactive in your body for some years. This is called latent TB. This may still need to be treated with antibiotics.

The BCG vaccination can prevent TB infection. In New Zealand, it's offered to babies and children under 5 with a higher risk of catching TB.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2021.

Page reference: 49703

Review key: HITBC-49703