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What is Tuberculosis (TB)?

Tuberculosis is a disease caused by a germ called the tubercle bacillus. The germ enters the body through the air you breathe and causes an infection, usually in the lungs but sometimes in other parts of the body.


Why does tuberculosis matter in ontario?

  • Tuberculosis continues to be a public health concern in Ontario. Although the TB rate has slowly declined, Ontario faces new challenges in TB prevention and control.
  • There is a large pool of latent TB cases among the elderly, people living with HIV, and those who come from or travel to regions where tuberculosis is endemic. Worldwide, more than 8 million people get active TB disease every year.


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Did you know...

  • Most of the time people get TB from breathing in air which has been coughed out by someone who has an active case of TB in the lungs.
  • There are two types of TB, latent TB infection and active TB disease.
  • TB infection means that you have TB germs in your body, but they are not doing any harm to you or to others. (This is latent TB.)
  • TB disease means that the germs are spreading quickly, damaging the lungs or other parts of the body and may be contagious. (This is active TB.)
  • TB disease in parts of the body other than the lungs and respiratory tract is not contagious.
  • Smoking may increase the risk of becoming infected with latent tuberculosis by up to three times, and exposure to second-hand smoke increases the risk of becoming infected with TB in both children and adults.



Those at a higher than average risk of getting TB include:

  • People who have had close and prolonged contact with people with active TB.
  • Those from or visitors to areas of the world where TB is common.
  • Aboriginal peoples.
  • Those with medical problems that reduce their ability to fight infection.
  • Alcoholics.
  • Drug users who use needles.
  • Those who are homeless or live in shelters and hostels; and staff and residents of long-term care facilities, hospitals and correctional centres.
  • People who smoke.



Symptoms include cough, night sweats, tiredness, chills, loss of appetite, weight loss and chest pain. If you have symptoms, contact your doctor.


Some points to remember

1.   Tuberculosis is no longer a common disease for most Canadians, but it does still exist.
2.   Only about one person in 10 with latent TB infection will actually develop active disease.
3.   Several tests are required to determine if TB germs are present in the body or if TB is active or not. These tests may include a  tuberculin skin test, a chest x-ray and spit (sputum) tests.
4.   TB infection can be treated very effectively with drugs that kill the TB germs in the body and reduce the likelihood that the person will develop TB disease later.
5.   TB disease can also be treated effectively through a combination of drugs. Treatment takes 6 to 12 months, but as long as the drugs are taken as prescribed, the disease can be cured. In Ontario, TB drugs are free.
6.   TB can develop in parts of the body other than the lungs. However, modern drugs are also very effective in curing these types of TB.


The Ontario Lung Association publishes valuable resources on TB for health professionals and the public


Click here to learn more about tuberculosis.