What is tuberculosis (TB)?

TB is a treatable bacterial disease that is spread from person to person through the air. TB usually affects the lungs, but can affect other parts of the body as well, including the brain, kidneys or spine. TB germs are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs coughs, sneezes, talks or sings.


What are the symptoms of TB?

TB of the lungs may include cough, chest pain and/or coughing up blood. The general symptoms of TB disease include feeling sick or weak, weight loss, fever, chills and night sweats.


How can you tell if someone has TB?

The tuberculin skin test (TST) is used to find out whether or not a person is infected with TB germs. For the test, a small amount of tuberculin solution is injected under the skin on the forearm. Two or three days later, a health care worker checks for a reaction on the arm. If it is positive, other tests such as a chest x-ray, will be done to see if the person has TB infection or TB disease.


What is the difference between TB infection and TB disease?

TB can take two forms: active TB disease and latent TB infection (LTBI). A person with latent TB infection (but not active TB disease) is not sick and does not experience any TB symptoms. Persons with latent TB infection cannot spread the germs to others because the bacteria are not active. Persons with latent TB infection can be prescribed medicine to prevent them from developing active TB disease.


Persons with active TB disease:

- May have symptoms that include: prolonged coughing, chills/fever, unexplained weight loss, chest pain, weakness, night sweats

- May spread TB to others

- Often have an abnormal chest x-ray


Persons with latent TB infection:

- Have no symptoms and do not feel sick

- Cannot spread TB to others

- Usually have a positive TST and a normal chest x-ray


What does it mean to have a “positive” skin test or blood test?

A positive reaction to the Tuberculin skin test or the Quantiferon blood test does not necessarily mean that a person has active TB disease. A positive TST only shows that the TB germ has infected the person’s body. Only about 10% of people infected with TB will go on to develop active TB disease over the course of their lifetime.


The San Luis Obispo County Health Department offers screening and treatment of tuberculosis (TB) disease by appointment.  Services may include skin testing, health assessment and history, chest x-ray referral and medications if indicated  Click here for a link to clinic offices and phone numbers.

 To Report a case of TB to the Public Health Department, use this form: TB CMR


Recommended Links:

California Department of Health Services TB Control Branch

Centers for Disease Control

California Tuberculosis Controllers Association


Penny Borenstein, MD, MPH

Health Officer/Public Health Director


M-F, 8:00 AM-5:00 PM

(805) 781-5500

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After hours public health emergency or urgent communicable disease (805) 781-4553

24-Hour Information Line -Recorded Messages- (805) 788-2903

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