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Pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection of the lungs caused by the organism Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB is an airborne disease, meaning it spreads from person to person through tiny droplets in the air. Although tuberculosis is most often found in the lungs, it can develop in other parts of the body, as well. It’s important to note that untreated pulmonary tuberculosis can be fatal, but taking medication as prescribed by your doctor almost always cures it.
Tuberculosis can be either latent or active:
Pulmonary tuberculosis spreads through tiny, airborne droplets released into the air when someone with active disease coughs, sneezes, talks, laughs or sings. If you breathe in these droplets, you can become infected.2
Yes, the disease is contagious, but unlike the common cold or flu, it doesn’t thrive on surfaces; you can’t catch it by merely shaking someone’s hand who has it or by touching a surface an infected person has previously touched. You must be in close contact with someone who has active disease over a period of time. That’s why the disease is most often spread among co-workers, friends and family members who live and work in close contact with each other.2
Initially symptoms of active pulmonary TB may be so mild they’re not noticeable. As the disease progresses, symptoms may include:2
People who live and work in close contact with others who are sick are at highest risk for catching the disease. This includes:1
Not everyone infected with the TB germ will develop active TB disease. People at highest risk for developing active disease include those with weakened immune symptoms such as:
TB can be diagnosed through a skin test or TB blood test. If you have a positive skin test, it only means you’ve been infected with the TB germ. You’ll be given additional tests such as a chest X-ray and sputum test to determine if you have active TB disease.
Treatment of pulmonary TB depends upon whether you have latent or active disease. For example, if you have:1
The most important aspect of TB treatment is to continue taking your medication under medical supervision for the entire length of therapy.1 Doing otherwise can lead to antibiotic resistance and increase the risk of severe illness and death.
To reduce the chances of you getting active TB disease, consider the following preventative tips:2
For more information about pulmonary tuberculosis or to get a TB skin test, talk to your primary health care provider.
 American Lung Association. Learn About Tuberculosis. Last reviewed October 11, 2016.
 WebMD. Tuberculosis (TB) – Topic Overview. Accessed January 20, 2018.