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TB (Tuberculosis) - How is it transmitted?


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 closed spaces over a long period of time.

TB can be contracted by breathing in the TB bacteria that cause TB and that are in the air. The bacteria get released into the air by someone who already has the TB bacteria in their body. TB is spread from one person to another through the air.

When a person with TB of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, sings or talks, droplets containing the bacteria are released into the air. That is why people who think they may be infectious, may often hold something over their mouth when they are near to other people. People working in a health clinic may also for this reason sometimes wear a mask.

People are not equally infectious. Generally, it is only people with TB of the throat or lungs who are infectious. Also, the most important factor is whether someone is on effective TB treatment. TB treatment dramatically reduces the number of infectious droplets released by a person. The strength of a person’s cough can also affect the number of droplets released.

You cannot get TB by

  • through food or water,
  • or by kissing,
  • or by skin contact such as shaking hands,
  • or by touching a toilet seat,
  • or by sharing a toothbrush.

Myths about how TB is spread

In many countries, the public is not very well informed, and there are many myths about how TB is passed on. There are particularly myths about how TB is spread. As a result, many people believe that TB is hereditary or can be spread through food and water.

In developing countries, a major effect of the resulting stigma and discrimination can be the social isolation of patients, both within and outside of the family. Within the family, the patient may be forced to eat and sleep separately because of the fear of transmission. Patients may even isolate themselves to avoid infecting others. Education needs to be a major part of TB prevention.