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Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit
Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit

Infectious Diseases
- Prevention, Control & Outbreak Management

Tuberculosis - Background Information

Tuberculosis (often called TB) is an infectious disease that usually attacks the lungs, but can attack almost any part of the body.  Tuberculosis is spread from person to person through the air.

When people with TB in their lungs or throat cough, laugh, sneeze, sing, or even talk, the germs that cause TB may be spread into the air.  If another person breathes in these germs there is a chance that they will become infected with tuberculosis.  Repeated contact is usually required for infection. 

It is important to understand that there is a difference between being infected with TB and having TB disease.  Someone who is infected with TB has the TB germs, or bacteria, in their body.  The body’s defences are protecting them from the germs and they are not sick.

Someone with TB disease is sick and can spread the disease to other people.  A person with TB disease needs to see a doctor as soon as possible. 

It is not easy to become infected with tuberculosis.  Usually a person has to be close to someone with TB disease for a long period of time.  TB is usually spread between family members, close friends, and people who work or live together.  TB is spread most easily in enclosed spaces over a long period of time.  However, transmission in an airplane, although rare, has been documented.

Even if someone becomes infected with tuberculosis, that does not mean they will get TB disease.  Most people who become infected do not develop TB disease because their body’s defences protect them.

TB continues to be a major worldwide problem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) about one-third of the world’s population has latent TB, which means they have been infected with TB bacteria. Only about 10 percent of these people will develop TB disease in their lifetime. The other 90 percent will never get sick from the TB bacteria or be able to spread TB to other people.

The WHO also has declared that TB is only second to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide out of all diseases caused by a single infectious agent. In 2010, 8.8 million people fell ill with TB disease and 1.4 million people died from TB.

The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit thinks globally and acts locally when we deal with the issue of tuberculosis.




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