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City of Alexandria, VA City of Alexandria, VA
Health Department
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Page updated Feb 27, 2015 4:07 PM

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Tuberculosis (TB) Awareness  

What is TB?

“TB” is short for tuberculosis, a disease that is caused by a bacterium (Mycobacterium Tuberculosis) and is spread from person to person through the air. TB usually affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, the kidneys, or the spine. A person with TB can die if they do not get treatment.

What are the symptoms of TB?

The general symptoms of TB disease include fatigue, weight loss, fever, chills, night sweats and loss of appetite. The symptoms of TB disease of the lungs also include coughing, chest pain, and hemoptysis (coughing up blood). Symptoms of TB disease in other parts of the body are different and depend on the area affected.

How is TB spread?  

TB germs are passed through the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, laughs, sings, or sneezes. Anyone nearby can breathe in these TB germs and can become infected – this is called latent TB infection (LTBI). The longer you are exposed to the airborne germs, the greater your risk is for becoming infected with TB. People with LTBI cannot pass TB germs to others, but if left undetected and untreated, latent TB infection can turn into active TB disease, which can be passed on to others.  

What is the difference between latent TB infection and TB disease?  

People with latent TB infection have TB germs in their bodies, but they are not sick because the germs are not active – they have a strong enough immune system to keep the germs from multiplying. These people do not have symptoms of TB disease, and they cannot spread the germs to others. However they may progress to TB disease (see below). This may occur for no known reason or may be because they develop other chronic illnesses or their immune system becomes compromised. People with latent TB infection can take medicine for several months to help prevent them from developing TB disease. 

People with TB disease are sick from TB germs that are active, meaning that the germs are multiplying and destroying tissue in their body. They usually have symptoms of TB disease. People with TB disease of the lungs or throat are capable of spreading germs to others. They can take medicine for up to a year or more to treat TB disease.  

How is TB disease treated?

TB disease can be treated by taking several specific medicines for 6 to 12 months. It is very important that people who have TB disease finish the medicine and that they take the medicine exactly as prescribed. If they stop taking the medicine too soon, they can become sick again; if they do not take the medicine correctly, the germs that are still alive may become resistant to those drugs. TB that is resistant to drugs is harder and more expensive to treat. In some situations, staff from the local health department meet regularly with patients who have TB to watch them take their medicine. This is called directly observed therapy (DOT).  DOT helps the patient complete treatment correctly and in the least amount of time.  

Who should get evaluated for TB?

  • People with symptoms of TB
  • People born in a country where TB is common
  • People who have spent a lot of time around someone with TB disease
  • People with certain medical conditions (i.e., HIV infection, high blood sugar)
  • Medical personnel
  • Young people entering school
  • People who live or have lived in shelters or other congregate settings
  • People who are or have been incarcerated
People do not know for sure if they have TB infection unless they have been tested for TB.

How can you be evaluated for TB?   

  • Tuberculin Skin Test, or TST (sometimes called a PPD)

A health care worker administers the TB skin test on the person's arm. 48-72 hours (2-3 days) after the test, the health care worker checks the tested area of the arm for a specific type of reaction.

  • TB blood test

This test may be used based upon your risk. Your healthcare provider will determine if this test is appropriate for you.

Where can you be evaluated for TB?

  • Contact your healthcare provider OR

  • Contact the Alexandria Health Department TB program at 703-746-4960

Interested in more information?

4480 King Street
Alexandria, VA, 22302
Fax: 703.746.4938

Office Hours:
Monday - Friday
8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Closed Thursday Mornings