Tuberculosis (TB)  is a curable disease caused by bacteria (germs) that usually affect the lungs (called pulmonary TB). But these germs can also infect other parts of the body (known as extra-pulmonary TB).

Pulmonary TB is contagious, but extra-pulmonary TB is usually not. You need to have prolonged, close contact with someone who has active TB disease in their lungs or throat to catch TB. It spreads when a sick person coughs, talks or sneezes the germs into the air.

Public Health supports all people with TB and their families. TB medication is supplied for free to people with TB through Region of Waterloo Public Health. Public Health staff also provide testing, phone assessments, education and treatment when needed.

If you think you have TB or have been exposed to it, call your healthcare provider. TB treatment and medication are free in Ontario, even if you don't have an Ontario Health Card. 

Active TB disease vs. latent TB infection

Both latent TB infection (LTBI) and active TB disease are treatable and curable.

What is active TB disease?

Active TB disease happens when the body's immune system can't stop the TB bacteria from growing and spreading, which makes a person feel ill. A person with active TB may or may not have a positive TB skin test. They may have an abnormal chest x-ray, a positive sputum test for TB, or a positive TB culture on a lab test. If someone has active TB disease, they will need treatment which is free from Public Health.

Symptoms of active TB disease include:

  • A cough that lasts longer than 3 weeks that may be bloody or phlegmy (thick liquid)
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness, tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • A lack of appetite
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Other symptoms (depending where the TB germs are in the body). TB can affect your brain, spine, bones, kidneys, or lymph nodes.

What is latent TB infection?

Latent TB infection (LTBI) happens when a person gets infected with TB, but their immune system stops the bacteria from making them feel sick. Most people with LTBI don't get sick or have symptoms. They may test positive for TB on a skin test. 

Treatment for LTBI is not usually required. However, If left untreated, Latent TB infection may turn into active TB disease.  A health care provider can help decide if medication would be helpful to prevent a latent TB infection from becoming active TB disease.

TB Skin Test

You can get a TB skin test or blood test to find out if you have TB germs in your body. Learn more about TB testing.

TB Treatment

TB can be treated with antibiotics prescribed by a healthcare provider. Public Health provides free medication for TB. If you are taking antibiotics for TB, a Public Health Nurse will support you through your treatment. It is important to take all of your antibiotics to cure the TB infection, avoid spread of TB, and reduce your risk of getting TB again.

Active TB disease treatment

If you have TB in your lungs or throat, it's crucial to isolate at home and away from others to avoid spreading germs. You have to stay in isolation until Public Health informs you that you are no longer contagious and can leave isolation. The length of time you must isolate depends on how sick you are and how well you respond to TB treatment. The minimum time you need to isolate is at least two weeks after starting antibiotics. You will be tested during your isolation to determine if you are infectious.

Latent TB infection (LTBI) treatment

If you have been diagnosed with LTBI, you can take TB medication. Public Health can provide you with free medication to reduce the risk of your LTBI becoming active TB. If you have LTBI, you are not considered contagious and do not have to isolate.

For Health Care Provider information related to LTBI, see our LTBI page for Health Care Providers.

TB medical surveillance

TB medical surveillance is a medical check-up for people who come to Canada to find out if they might have active TB. Read more about TB medical surveillance.

Health care provider information

Public Health offers a TB clinic with our local hospitals and respirologists for assessment and treatment of latent and active TB. Health Care providers can access the referral form from our Request a Form page.

See our Health Care Providers page for further information and resources

Additional Resources

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