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?

  • In the last 5 years in South Carolina we have had an average of 87 tuberculosis disease cases
  • Roughly, one-fourth of people worldwide are infected with tuberculosis. (Per the CDC: In 2018, 1.7 billion people were infected by TB bacteria — roughly 23% of the world’s population.)
  • Each year there are more than 1.4 million TB-related deaths worldwide
  • In general, more men than women get tuberculosis disease
  • In South Carolina most cases occur in African American males.

How long has TB been around?

  • TB has been around for a long time. It has been found in Egyptian mummies, meaning it is at least 5,400 years old.
  • TB has been called consumption.
  • In the early 1800s, TB may have caused about one-third 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.
  • Some people are more likely than others to develop TB disease once they have TB infection. This includes people with HIV infection, people who were recently exposed to someone with TB disease and people with certain medical conditions.

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 spreads when the sick person with TB disease sneezes, coughs, sings or talks.

What is the difference between TB infection and TB disease?

  • People with latent TB infection have TB germs in their bodies, but they are not sick because the germs are not active. These people do not have symptoms of TB disease, and they cannot spread the germs to others. However, they may develop TB disease in the future. They are often prescribed treatment to prevent them from developing TB disease.
  • People with TB disease are sick from TB germs that are active, meaning they are multiplying and destroying tissue in their body. They usually have symptoms of TB disease. People with TB disease of the lungs or throat can spread germs to others. They are prescribed drugs that can treat TB disease.

What kinds of tests might I have if it is suspected that I have TB?

  • The nurse will do a TB skin test or a TB blood test.
  • The nurse will ask:
    • How Are You Feeling? and
    • About TB Signs and Symptoms
  • The doctor may order a chest X-ray.
  • The nurse may ask for a 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 look at all these tests to see if you have TB.
  • If you do, the doctor will prescribe the medications you need to get well.
  • The TB nurse will give you your TB medications, as ordered by the doctor.

When should I be worried that I might have TB?

  • When you have been around someone who has TB
  • When you have a productive cough for three 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?

  • There are medications to treat TB that work for most people.
  • Most people take four different TB pills and a vitamin pill.
  • The TB medications are free, 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.
  • 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 become infected from contact with someone who 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 medications for a longer period of time.
    • You will take TB medications that have more side effects.
    • Your are less likely to get well.


  • It is very important to take your TB medications and not miss any doses so:
  1. You will finish your TB treatment.
  2. You will not get MDR-TB or XDR-TB.
  3. You will not infect other people with TB.

Taking your TB medications

  • 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.

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

  • 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: