How TB Spreads

When people with the disease cough, sneeze, talk or spit, they propel TB germs, known as bacilli, into the air.  Only a small number of the bacilli need to be inhaled to cause an infection. You can also get TB from infected tattooing equipment, for more info on this please visit –

You cannot catch TB from a person with active TB by using a fork, knife, or glass that they used, or by touching them.  TB is not caught through sexual contact, though it is not recommend in the first 2 months, because the TB microbe is still active.

However,  not all people infected with TB bacilli will become sick. The immune system either kills the germs, or “walls off” the TB bacilli where they can lie dormant for years.  Failure of the immune system to control infection with TB bacilli leads to active disease, when TB bacilli multiply and cause damage in the body.  Left untreated, each person with infectious TB will spread the germs to about 10 to 15 people every year.

  • Someone in the world is newly infected with TB bacilli every second.
  • Overall, one third of the world’s population is currently infected with TB.
  • 5% to 10% of people who are infected with TB become actively sick.

People with latent TB infection do not show any signs of TB disease so it can go unnoticed. Since this latent infection can become active at any time and then spread to other individuals it is usually treated with antibiotics.

People with active TB disease do have signs and symptoms.   These symptoms of active TB disease are easy to confuse with those of many other diseases. This chart details the main differences between active TB disease and latent TB infection.

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