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What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis, or TB, is a disease caused by a germ (called the tubercle bacterium or Mycobacterium tuberculosis). TB usually affects the lungs, but can affect other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes (glands), the bones and (rarely) the brain. Infection with the TB germ may not develop into TB disease.

How do you know if someone has Tuberculosis?

TB disease develops slowly in the body, and it usually takes several months for symptoms to appear.

Any of the following symptoms may suggest TB:

  • Fever and night sweats.
  • Persistent cough.
  • Losing weight.
  • Blood in your sputum (phlegm or spit) at any time.

How does Tuberculosis spread?

The TB germ is usually spread in the air. It is caught from another person who has TB of the lungs. The germ gets into the air when that person coughs or sneezes.

Anyone can get TB. But it is difficult to catch. You are most at risk if someone living in the same house as you catches the disease, or a close friend has the disease.

How do ambulance staff stop Tuberculosis spreading?

Ambulance staff take special precautions with patients who have Tuberculosis in the lungs in order to stop it spreading to other people.

Simple hygiene measures reduce the risk of spreading Tuberculosis

  • Everyone should clean their hands before and after touching patients.
  • Hands can be cleaned with soap and water, moist hand wipes or alcohol hand rubs.
  • Staff may wear gloves and aprons (depending on drug resistance) when they care for a patient who has been diagnosed with Tuberculosis and has not completed two weeks of treatment.
  • The patient will be asked to wear a surgical mask or use tissues if they have been diagnosed with Tuberculosis and have not completed two weeks of treatment.
  • The area where the patient was sitting and any equipment used on the patient will be cleaned using biocidal wipes.
  • If linen is used, eg sheets or blankets, these items will be changed between patients.

Does a patient with Tuberculosis have to be transported on their own?

Patients who have Tuberculosis in the lungs and have not completed two weeks of treatment must be transported on their own, otherwise can be transported with others.

Further information is available from the Health Protection Agency website.