Tuberculosis, or TB, is a bacterial infection that typically targets the lungs. TB can also infect other areas of the body, such as the kidneys, spine, or brain.

TB is spread from the lungs of a person with TB through coughing. When a person coughs or sneezes, the bacteria travel into the air and may be inhaled by a person standing nearby. TB is most commonly spread through repeated contact, such as within a family. Short-term exposure can also cause TB.

At one point, TB was the leading cause of death in the United States. As treatments were developed, TB rates began to drop. Today, there are far fewer cases, but the disease is still present.

TB is still a major health problem throughout the world, particularly in Africa. People with HIV infection also have a higher risk of getting TB.

Symptoms depend on where the bacteria have settled and grown in the body. The lungs are often infected. Symptoms of TB infection in the lungs include:

  • A cough that lasts three weeks or longer
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood or phlegm
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever and chills
  • Night sweats

TB can usually be treated successfully with antibiotics. Without treatment, the disease can be fatal.

The Bacille Calmette-Guerin vaccine, or BCG, can help prevent TB. However, this vaccine does not always protect people from getting TB.

The vaccine contains live, weakened bacteria. It is given as shot in the arm.