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Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection, it is spread through inhaling tiny droplets of saliva from the coughs or sneezes of an infected individual. TB mainly affects the lungs,however, the infection can spread to other parts of the body, including the bones and nervous system.

Before antibiotics were introduced, TB was a major health problem in England. Nowadays, there is a vaccination called The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccine, also known as the BCG vaccine. However, in the last 20 years TB cases have gradually increased and in 2009, 9,040 cases of TB were reported in the UK. Most of these occurred in urban centres, with over one-third of cases in London.


3 things can happen to your immune systems if you are infected with TB:

  • Your immune system kills the bacteria and you have no further symptoms.
  • Your immune system can’t kill the bacteria but it manages to build a defense barrier around the infection meaning you’ll have no symptoms and you’ll remain infected. This is called latent TB
  • Your immune system can’t kill or contain the bacteria and it slowly spreads to your lungs,this is called active TB.

Typical symptoms of TB include:

  • A persistent cough that brings up thick phlegm, which may be bloody
  • Breathlessness, which is usually mild to begin with and gradually gets worse
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • A high temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • Extreme tiredness
  • A sense of feeling unwell

Always see your GP if you have a cough that lasts for more than three weeks or if you cough up blood.


If it is not treated, an active TB infection can be fatal. It can damage the lungs to such an extent that a person will not be able to breathe properly. With treatment, TB can usually be cured but most people will need to take a long-term course of antibiotics, which usually lasts for at least 6 months.

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This website contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. Please read our medical disclaimer.