Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection that enters the body though the air you breathe. It usually affects the lungs but can affect any part of the body such as the kidneys, brain or spine.

How is TB spread?

TB spreads from person to person through the air. TB bacteria can make their way into the air when a person with active TB coughs, talks, sneezes or sings. TB spreads to people who spend a lot of time with a person who has the disease. People at highest risk are those living in the same household or setting (e.g. long-term care home, shelter, jail) and close non-household contacts who are very young (<5 years) or have a weak immune system e.g. someone with cancer or diabetes.

What is TB disease?

When TB bacteria are actively growing in the body and causing symptoms, a person has TB disease. This person can spread TB to others if the TB infection is in the lungs or throat. The symptoms can be mild to severe including:

  • Coughing (lasting longer than 2-3 weeks)
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fever, chills, night sweats
  • Feeling tired
  • Unexplained weight loss and/or loss of appetite

What are the tests for TB?

  • Tuberculin Skin Test (TST) –A TST only detects the presence of TB bacteria in the body. A TST is not used to diagnose active TB disease.
  • Interferon Gamma Release Assay (IGRA): IGRA is a blood test that can also detect TB bacteria in the body. The use of this blood test is not recommended for diagnosis of active TB in adults. IGRA testing is currently not covered by OHIP and the patient covers the cost. This test is currently not available within our district.
  • Chest X-ray/CT Scan/MRI: Radiology can detect some of the signs of TB and might show that the disease is progressing.
  • Sputum Smear and Culture: At least three sputum specimens (saliva and/or mucus coughed up) should be collected and tested. Smear means the saliva and/or mucus is examined under a microscope to look for TB bacteria. The result usually take one or two days to come in. A smear result can’t be used for diagnosis.
  • Biopsy – A biopsy may be necessary if TB is suspected to be in another part of the body (e.g. lymph nodes, kidneys, bladder, spine, etc.) A small piece of tissue is tested for TB bacteria.

How do you treat TB?

TB is treated with medications that are provided free by the Health Unit.

TB treatment takes a very long time (up to one year) to kill all of the TB bacteria. Some people might want to stop taking the medications when they start to feel better. If someone stops taking their medications too soon it can cause the TB to become stronger and harder to kill, and in some cases, resistant to TB medications.

The goal of TB treatment is to take 100% of the doses of medication for the entire length of time they were prescribed. 

Additional resources

Visit the following links for more information on TB, including how it is tested and treated:

For more information contact the Health Unit at 705-474-1400 or 1-800-563-2808 ext. 5229.


References: Canadian Thoracic Society (CTS) of the Canadian Lung Association (CLA); Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). (2014). Canadian Tuberculosis Standards. 7th edition. Ontario. 2011. Tuberculosis Prevention & Control Guidance Document. Toronto. ON: MOHLTC

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