Preventing Tuberculosis: An Overview
Generally, tuberculosis (TB) is a preventable disease. Prevention measures focus on:
- Preventive treatment in people who have a positive TB test without symptoms of tuberculosis (latent tuberculosis)
- Precautions at hospitals and clinics
- BCG vaccine
- Reducing exposures when a person is infectious.
In the United States, healthcare providers try to identify people infected with tuberculosis as early as possible, before they have developed active tuberculosis. These people can then be treated and cured before they become contagious.
Anyone who has been exposed to a person with TB should be tested for latent tuberculosis (see TB Test). This disease is especially dangerous for children and people with HIV infection. If infected with TB bacteria, these people need medicine right away to keep from developing an active case.
Hospitals and Clinic Precautions
Hospitals and clinics take precautions to prevent tuberculosis transmission, which include using ultraviolet light to sterilize the air, special filters, and special respirators and masks. In hospitals, people with TB are isolated in special rooms with controlled ventilation and airflow until they can no longer spread tuberculosis.
The BCG Vaccine as Part of Tuberculosis Prevention
In those parts of the world where tuberculosis is common, infants should receive a vaccine called BCG (Bacille Calmette Guerin) to prevent tuberculosis. This vaccine is made from a live weakened bacterium related to tuberculosis bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis). It prevents the TB bacteria from spreading within the body, thus preventing the disease from developing.
This tuberculosis vaccine has its drawbacks, however. It does not protect adults very well against infection. In addition, the BCG vaccine may interfere with the TB skin test, showing a positive reaction in people who have received the vaccine. In countries where the vaccine is used, the ability of the skin test to identify people infected with tuberculosis is limited. Because of these limitations, U.S. health experts do not recommend BCG vaccine for general use in this country.
Reducing Exposure in to Prevent Tuberculosis
If you have active tuberculosis, it is important to stay home from work or school and away from other people while you are infectious. After a few weeks of treatment, you will feel better and you may no longer be infectious to others. Your doctor or nurse will tell you when you can return to work or school or visit with friends.
If you are infectious while you are at home, there are certain things you can do to protect yourself and others near you. Your doctor may tell you to follow these guidelines to protect yourself and others:
- The most important thing is to take your medicine.
- Always cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough, sneeze, or laugh. Put the tissue in a bag, close the bag, and throw it away.
- Separate yourself from others, and avoid close contact with anyone. Sleep in a bedroom away from other family members.
- Air out your room often to the outside of the building (if it is not too cold outside). TB spreads in small closed spaces where air doesn’t move. Put a fan in your window to blow out air that may be filled with TB bacteria. If you open other windows in the room, the fan also will pull in fresh air. This will reduce the chances that TB bacteria will stay in the room and infect someone who breathes the air.
If your doctor or nurse agrees, you will be able to go back to your daily routine. Remember, you will get well only if you take your medicine exactly as your doctor or nurse tells you.