Tuberculosis FAQs

What is Tuberculosis (TB)?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial disease found primarily in the lungs. It is spread from person to person through the air. Persons who have tuberculosis in their lungs cough the bacteria into the air and others become infected by breathing in the bacteria. These persons now have latent TB. Without treatment for latent TB infection, approximately 10 percent of the persons who become infected will develop tuberculosis disease sometime in their lifetime. The remaining 90 percent of the people with latent TB carry the bacteria for a lifetime without developing the disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many people have TB?

  • Approximately 150,000 South Carolinians are infected with the tuberculosis bacteria.
  • In the last 5 years in S.C. we have had an average of 153 TB disease cases.
  • 1/3 of the people worldwide are infected with TB.
  • Each year there are more than 1.4 million TB-related deaths worldwide
  • In general, more men than women get TB disease.

How long has TB been around?

  • TB has been around a long time.
  • TB has been found in Egyptian mummies (at least 5,400 years old)
  • TB has been called consumption
  • In the early 1800s TB may have caused about 1/3 of all deaths.

Years ago people who had TB went to a special hospital, called a sanatorium, where they received treatment. Today, most people get their TB pills at home or some other place, like school or work.

How many people who are infected with TB will develop active TB?

  • Without medicine, about 10% of people infected with TB will develop TB disease at some point in their life.

How is TB spread?

  • TB is a germ that is spread through the air by someone who has TB disease. You cannot get TB by eating or drinking after someone.
  • TB is spread when the sick person with TB disease sneezes, coughs, sings or talks.

What is the difference between TB infection and TB disease?

  • Persons with latent TB infection do not feel sick and do not have any symptoms. They are infected with M. tuberculosis, but do not have TB disease.
  • In some people, TB bacteria overcome the defenses of the immune system and begin to multiply, resulting in the progression from latent TB infection to TB disease.

What tests are used to detect TB?

  • The nurse will do a TB skin test.
  • The nurse will ask:
    • How are you feeling?
    • About TB Signs and Symptoms
  • The doctor may order a chest X-ray.
  • The nurse may ask for sputum samples, which must be coughed up from deep in the lungs.

How will a doctor know if someone has TB disease?

  • The doctor will use information from the tests listed above to see if you have TB. If you do, the doctor will prescribe the appropriate treatment plan for you to get well. The TB nurse will give you your TB pills, as ordered by the doctor.

When should I be worried that I might have TB?

  • When you have been around someone that has TB.
  • When you have a productive cough for 3 weeks or longer (this is a cough that is much worse than a regular cough when you have a cold).
  • When you have chest pain.
  • When you are coughing up blood.

Other symptoms that might mean you have TB:

If you have...

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue (you feel very tired and don't ever feel rested).

If you have these symptons...

  • Go see your family doctor, or
  • Call the public health department and ask to speak to a TB nurse

Can you get TB in other places in the body besides your lungs?

Yes, you can get TB anywhere in your body, including:

  • Lymph nodes
  • Bladder or kidneys
  • Bones and joints
  • Skin
  • Other places in your body

How do you treat TB?

  • We have pills to treat TB that work for most people.
  • Most people take 4 different TB pills and a vitamin pill.
  • The TB pills are free to you if you get them from the public health department.

If I have TB can I infect other people with TB?

  • Yes, you can infect others if your sputum samples show that you are infectious.
  • When you are infectious the doctor and nurse will order you to stay home and not be around others.
  • You should stay home until the nurse tells you it is safe for you to go back to work or any other public place.

TB germs that need special TB drugs.

  • Some of our TB pills do not work on certain kinds of TB germs.
  • When you are infectious the doctor and nurse will order you to stay home and not be around others.
  • Those TB germs are called Multi-Drug Resistant (MDR-TB) or Extensively Drug Resistant TB (XDR-TB). They are resistant to the most effective TB drugs. Resistant means that the usual pills to treat TB do not work.

How do you get MDR-TB or XDR-TB?

  • You can catch it from someone that has the MDR-TB or XDR-TB germ.
  • You can change the TB germ you have by not taking your TB pills correctly so that the TB pills don't work - This means the TB germ is RESISTANT to one or more of the TB pills that are used to cure the disease.

Treating MDR-TB and XDR-TB.

If you have these kinds of TB...

  • It will be harder to treat you.
  • You will have to take TB pills for a longer period of time.
  • You will take TB pills that have more side effects.
  • Your are less likely to get well.


It is very important to take your TB pills and not miss any doses so:

  • You will finish your TB pills.
  • You will not get MDR-TB or XDR-TB.
  • You will not infect other people.

Taking your TB pills

  • Someone from the public health department will help you take your TB pills.
  • They will meet you wherever you want to meet so you can take your TB pills and tell them how you are feeling.
  • The TB pills are FREE to you.

What happens if I don't take my TB pills?

  • TB is a very serious disease that you can pass to other people.
  • DHEC is required by law to protect the public.
  • If you have TB and do not take your medicine, DHEC can take you to court and ask a judge to put you in a facility until you are well.

If you want more information about TB...

Call your local public health department and ask for the TB department or you can go to the following websites: