Travel Health Service Tuberculosis
Travel related diseases


What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It usually affects the lungs (pulmonary tuberculosis), but could also affect other parts of the body (extrapulmonary tuberculosis) such as lymph nodes, kidneys, bones, joints. Incubation period is from several weeks to many years. An infected person has the greatest risk of developing tuberculosis within the first two years after infection.

The symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis include low-grade fever, night sweats, fatigue, weight loss, persistent cough (more than 2 weeks) and blood in the sputum. Some people may not have obvious symptoms. If other organs get infected, then other symptoms may be noticed.

How does tuberculosis spread?

Tuberculosis is spread through the air. When a person with infective pulmonary tuberculosis coughs, spits or sneezes, the bacteria get into the air and cause disease if a susceptible person inhales. Effective antibiotic treatment usually shortens the infectious period to within a few weeks.

How can you prevent tuberculosis?

The best way to prevent tuberculosis is to maintain good personal and environmental hygiene, including:

  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle, i.e., have balanced diet, adequate exercise and rest.

  • Cover the nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing and dispose of nasal and mouth discharge properly.

  • Newborns can receive BCG vaccination according to the immunization schedule. However BCG vaccination is not effective in adult.

How is tuberculosis treated?

People with symptoms of tuberculosis should seek medical treatment as soon as possible. They are prescribed multiple drug therapy for at least six months. After few weeks of treatment, patients' symptoms would be improved. However, the bacteria cannot be totally eradicated without completing the whole treatment. Incomplete treatment can cause a relapse of the disease and the bacteria may develop drug resistance. In order to eradicate the bacteria completely, patients should follow their doctors' instruction and complete the course of treatment.