What is Tuberculosis (TB)?

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It primarily affects the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body such as the kidneys, spine, and brain. TB is spread through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks, releasing bacteria into the air, which others may inhale.

Symptoms of TB:

  • Persistent cough that lasts three weeks or longer
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lungs)
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unintended weight loss

TB diagnosis requires medical tests such as skin or blood tests, but these alone can’t confirm active TB. Additional tests like chest x-rays and sputum samples are needed. Barriers to diagnosis, like cost and access to healthcare, hinder TB control efforts. Organizations like TB REACH and GDF address these challenges through funding and research. Diagnosing TB in children is tough, often detected late when it’s severe. New technologies aim to improve childhood TB detection.

A quarter of the global population carries TB bacteria but isn’t ill or contagious (latent TB). However, there’s a 5-10% chance of developing active TB disease in their lifetime. People with weakened immune systems, like those with HIV, malnutrition, diabetes, or who smoke, are at higher risk. Active TB means the TB bacteria are causing symptoms and can be spread to others. It’s most often associated with lung TB but can affect other organs too.

People at high risk for TB should undergo testing, especially if they have prolonged contact with those with active TB, work in high-risk settings like healthcare facilities or correctional institutions, or have recently visited areas where TB is common. Those with weakened immune systems due to HIV, malnutrition, alcohol use disorder, or smoking are also at greater risk. TB vaccines offer limited protection and regular testing is still necessary for at-risk groups.

When talking about TB, using respectful language and choosing words carefully can reduce stigma and empower individuals with TB. The Stop TB Partnership’s Words Matter Language Guide offers guidance on conversational and technical language, helping people with TB communicate effectively and advocate for themselves.

WHO identifies and regularly updates a list of 51 High Burden Countries (HBC) for TB, TB/HIV, and DR-TB. These countries account for 86-90% of the global TB burden. Being on this list helps secure political commitment and funding at the national level. 

The Stop TB Partnership, established in 2001 and hosted by the United Nations, is dedicated to addressing the needs of people, communities, and countries impacted by TB. We advocate, encourage collaboration among partners, promote innovative solutions, and strive for equal access to TB diagnostics, treatment, and care for everyone. You can learn more about our work and initiatives on our website.