What is tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. People with TB can spread it in the air to others when they cough, speak, or sing. You can get sick when you breathe TB bacteria into your lungs. TB bacteria in the lungs can move through the blood to infect other parts of the body, such as the kidney, spine, and brain.
Symptoms of TB disease in the lungs include
- Cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer
- Pain in the chest
- Coughing up blood or mucus
- Weakness or fatigue
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Sweating at night
Symptoms of TB infection in other parts of the body depend on the area affected.
Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick or has symptoms. This is called latent TB infection. People with latent TB infection cannot spread TB to others. However, a person with latent TB infection can get sick years later if their immune system becomes weak. People with latent TB infection can take medicine to prevent getting TB Disease.
Who is at risk?
TB occurs throughout the world but is much more common in some countries. Most TB occurs in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Some TB bacteria are resistant to the drugs used to treat infection (drug-resistant TB). Fortunately, drug-resistant TB is rare.
Travelers planning to work in health care settings should consult infection control or occupational health experts in the country before seeing patients.
People with weak immune systems, especially those with HIV infection, are much more likely to develop TB disease compared to people with healthy immune systems.
A traveler’s chances of getting TB on a plane are very low.
What can travelers do to prevent tuberculosis?
Travelers can protect themselves by taking the following steps
- Avoid being close to or around a person who could have TB for long periods of time. This is especially important for travelers spending time in crowded environments, like clinics, hospitals, prisons, or homeless shelters.
- Avoid close contact with people who are coughing and who look sick.
- Take special precautions around people known to have TB. Travelers spending time working in health care settings should talk to an infection control or occupational health expert about what steps they can take to prevent TB infection, such as wearing an N95 respirator. They should also talk to a doctor about being tested for TB infection before leaving the United States. If the test reaction is negative, have a repeat TB test 8 to 10 weeks after returning to the United States
A TB vaccine exists, but CDC does not recommend it for travelers.
If you traveled and feel sick, particularly if you have a fever, talk to a healthcare provider and tell them about your travel. Avoid contact with other people while you are sick.
If you need medical care abroad, see Getting Health Care Abroad.