Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by a bacteria known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
In New Zealand, there are approximately 300 cases of TB diagnosed each year. While life-threatening complications such as haemorrhage from the lungs are now rare, TB can still be a very serious disease, particularly for older people.
Tuberculosis is spread through coughing, sneezing or spitting. The bacteria are carried into the air and people nearby can breathe them in through their mouths and noses.
You need to live or work closely with an infected person to catch the disease.
Tuberculosis can stay sleeping (latent) in someone’s body for many years before it develops. Even though you feel well and healthy, the doctor may still advise treatment to make sure you do not develop TB disease.
TB can be treated with antibiotics. It’s very important to finish the treatment or the disease will get worse again.
Tuberculosis vaccinations are normally only given to:
- babies at risk of catching TB from someone living in their house
- babies who are going to live in a country with a high rate of TB
- babies whose parents, household member or carer have in the last 6 months lived in a country with a high rate of TB.
The Disease Control team at Regional Public Health (RPH) has a key role in tuberculosis (TB) control in the Wellington region.
Health professionals provide the following services:
- Supervision of treatment of people with TB in the community. In some cases directly observed therapy (DOT) is used, where a nurse directly observes the person taking their TB medicines. Such close treatment supervision helps reduce the risk of treatment failure or development of drug resistance.
- Investigation and follow up of TB contacts (people who have been closely exposed to a person with infectious tuberculosis in their lungs or throat before the person was treated i.e. when they were still infectious). Contact follow up starts with enquiry about symptoms of TB, education about TB and Mantoux skin testing, which is followed by blood tests and chest X-rays if these are needed. TB contact follow up enables detection of other cases of TB disease (to diagnose TB disease early and to avoid further spread of infection to others), and detection of latent TB infection or LTBI (where people have been infected with TB germs, but are not infectious to others).
- Education and advice for people with TB, TB contacts, family members and the wider community.
- Treatment of LTBI with medicines to help prevent future TB disease.
- BCG vaccination of babies and children under five years of age who are at high risk of exposure to TB and who meet the Ministry of Health’s BCG eligibility criteria.
The BCG vaccine is an injection given to children who have a high risk of catching TB. The vaccine is free for children under 5 years of age who are at risk. For more information on the BCG vaccination click here.
Further information on TB is available by visiting the following websites.