Your questions answered about tuberculosis

Posted 01/08/2017

As part of Healthwatch Reading’s latest project, we aim to help people in Reading understand more about tuberculosis. Here is a summary of essential information, mostly taken from Reading Borough Council information that describes the health of our local community.

What is tuberculosis (TB?)?

TB is a bacterial infection. It can affect many parts of the body, but mainly affects the lungs. There are two types of TB: ‘sleeping TB’ (also called ‘latent TB’), which has no symptoms, but which can ‘wake up’ later on, such as when you have a weakened immune system from another illness; and active TB, which can you make you unwell, and may be life threatening if left untreated. However it is curable with the right antibiotics.

Is TB contagious?

It can be spread by people inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of a person with TB of the lungs. TB is less contagious than colds and flu and is usually spread between family members who live together.

Isn’t TB a disease of the past?

In recent years, TB cases rose in England, reaching a peak in 2011, but it is now declining. However England still has more cases than most other Western European countries. This is due to a variety of reasons, including people living in overcrowded housing, having a weakened immune system, and coming from other countries where TB is common.

How many people get TB in Reading?

Around 56 new cases of TB were recorded each year in Reading between 2013-15, higher than in many other parts of England (34.7 per 100,000 population in Reading, compared to the national average of 12 cases per 100,000).

What is being done to tackle this issue in Reading?

Reducing TB incidence is priority 8 of the Reading Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2017-2020, a plan drawn up jointly by local NHS groups that fund local health services, and Reading Borough Council, which oversees Public Health initiatives. Public Health officials have asked Healthwatch Reading to carry out a survey of local people to find out what they know about TB, to check if TB awareness campaigns have reached people most at-risk. There is also a dedicated service based at the Royal Berkshire Hospital to check if people have sleeping TB and arrange treatment.

How would I know if I had active TB?

According to the TB Alert charity, the most common TB symptoms are:

  • a cough, for three weeks or longer
  • extreme tiredness
  • fever
  • night sweats
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss.

TB symptoms can be vague. They are often similar to symptoms of other illnesses, such as the flu. Symptoms can also depend on which part of the body is affected. For example, a cough is a common symptom of TB in the lungs, while someone with TB in the kidneys may have backache.

People who have ongoing, unexplained symptoms, should go and see their GP.

How do I know if I have sleeping TB?

People can have sleeping TB, even if they have had a clear chest X-ray or BCG vaccination in the past. You may be more at risk if you were born or lived in a high-risk country for more than six months.

Anyone who has arrived in the UK from certain countries within the past 5 years can be tested at the Royal Berkshire Hospital clinic. Tests are confidential and do not affect anybody’s right to remain in the UK. Telephone the clinic on 0118 322 6882.  If your test shows you have sleeping TB, the clinic will give you free treatment to reduce the risk of it becoming active.





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