Information for patients
How is tuberculosis (TB) spread?
Tuberculosis (TB) is mainly spread through the air. You are at risk of infection if you are in a closed, indoor space with a TB-infected person with a cough. The longer you spend indoors with such a person, the greater your risk of infection will be. This is especially a concern for people spending over 8 hours per day with such an individual. Once people become infected with TB, the disease only occurs in about 10% of them. Others never even get sick. TB disease occurs most often in people with weak immune systems (e.g. HIV-positive people or patients with diabetes). Unfortunately, the prevalence of TB in Ukraine is so high that every citizen of the country comes into contact with people wick with TB from time to time. This can easily happen in the metro, public buses, shops, cafes, etc., without you knowing it. However, if you meet a person who is infected with TB but who is not coughing, it will be very difficult to catch TB from this person. An infected person needs to be actively ill and coughing, thus spreading TB-infected particles into the air, in order to spread the disease to others.
Is it possible to be infected with TB when I am outdoors in the open air?
No. It is nearly impossible to spread TB when people are outside in the open air. Even if you are indoors with a person who is sick with TB, you can significantly reduce the risk of being infected by ventilating the room by, for example, opening a window and creating a cross-breeze.
Can the use of a gauze or cotton-gauze or surgical mask or oxolinic ointment protect me from TB infection?
No. These measures do not protect healthy people from TB infection; however, such masks can be helpful when worn by TB patients, as this helps contain their cough and limits the spread of their infection. In other words, a mask will prevent a TB patient from exhaling TB particles, but it cannot prevent a healthy person from inhaling such particles if they are present.
Is it possible to be infected with TB through sharing food or household items?
This is highly unlikely. Although TB bacteria can remain alive for some time in food and on a variety of surfaces, the concentration of bacteria in these places is insufficient to infect someone. Especially if food is cooked, TB bacteria are unlikely to survive, as the heat kills them and other bacteria that may cause illness.
Is it dangerous to have a cough? What should I do if I develop a cough?
When you cough, you release droplets of sputum into the air. These droplets are what transmit TB infection from person to person. In fact, this is not only how TB is spread; other viral infections, especially those that are most common in the late fall and winter, and can be transmitted by sputum droplets, and are transmitted much more easily than TB. When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue and then put your used tissue in a wastebasket. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands, as we use our hands to touch other objects and people around us.
How do I avoid TB infection?
Avoid staying in the same room with patients who have an active cough. Be sure to eat a sufficient amount of protein and vitamins, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
What are the symptoms of TB disease?
Symptoms of TB disease depend on where in the body the TB bacteria are growing. TB disease symptoms may include:
- A bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer
- Pain in the chest
- Coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lungs)
- Weakness or fatigue
- Weight loss
- No appetite
- Chills and fever
- Sweating at night
If you think you may have been exposed to someone with TB disease, contact your health care provider.