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Do you have questions about tuberculosis? Here you will find answers to the most frequently asked questions.

What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is a disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The most common form of tuberculosis is lung tuberculosis, but one can also have tuberculosis in other parts of the body. Around one third of the world’s population has the tuberculosis bacteria in their body, but only a few of them become ill.

Why don’t all those who have the bacteria in their body become ill?

In most cases, the body’s immune system manages to keep the bacteria “dormant”, so that one does not become ill. But in around 10 per cent of those infected, either the quantity of tuberculosis bacteria is so great, or the immune system is weakened (for example due to other illnesses, stress, poor nutrition or changed diet) so that the bacteria “awakens”, and the person becomes ill. It can take many years from becoming infected to becoming ill.

Can I get tuberculosis even though I received the BCG vaccine?

Yes, unfortunately the vaccine does not provide 100 per cent protection. The BCG vaccine can provide some protection from tuberculosis for adults, but it has only been proven to effectively prevent serious forms of tuberculosis in children. As of 2009, the BCG vaccine in Norway is only given to children who are especially at risk for getting tuberculosis.

How is tuberculosis treated?

Tuberculosis is treated with medicines, usually tablets, and the medicines are free of charge. Most patients must take medicines every day for six months, but sometimes the treatment time is longer.

Someone I work with has been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Is it probable that I have been infected?

Tuberculosis is not a highly infectious disease. Most people who are infected have spent time with someone who is ill for a long time. The public health service also ensures that persons who may have been exposed to tuberculosis are tested: When someone is diagnosed with infectious lung tuberculosis, all those who have had close contact with the patient for more than eight hours altogether will be tested for latent tuberculosis. Even if one has been infected, they will not necessarily become ill. If health personnel consider it necessary, preventive treatment will be offered.

What is resistant tuberculosis?

Resistant tuberculosis is caused by tuberculosis bacteria, which survive the usual tuberculosis medicines. You can recover from resistant tuberculosis, but it takes longer and requires additional types of medicines compared with standard tuberculosis.

What is extra-pulmonary tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis in parts of the body other than the lungs is called extra-pulmonary tuberculosis. It can occur is all parts of the body, for example in the kidneys, lymph nodes, or the brain. If you have tuberculosis outside of the lungs, you cannot infect others.

What is DOT?

DOT stands for “Directly Observed Treatment”. DOT is a method of treatment that entails that a health worker shall be present when tuberculosis patients take their daily medicine.

I don’t know anyone who has tuberculosis. How can I have got the disease?

You can have been infected from someone who didn’t know that he or she had tuberculosis, and it may have been a long time ago. It can take many years from becoming infected to becoming ill.

I have always lived a healthy life. Why have I got tuberculosis?

Everyone can get tuberculosis, including people who have lived a healthy life. Since the tuberculosis bacteria is spread through the air, everyone may be at risk for getting the disease.

Why have I not become well after a long time of treatment?

Some patients still feel unwell after a period of treatment. The reason is that it takes a long time to kill all the bacteria in the body. Tuberculosis bacteria die slowly.

Why do I need several different medicines?

You need several medicines because the various medicines work together and help each other to kill the bacteria. The medicines also “protect” each other so that the bacteria do not become resistant. If you take only one medicine, the bacteria may survive, but when you take several different medicines the bacteria do not survive.

Why must I take medicines for such a long time? Why can’t I stop taking medicines when I feel better?

Even if you feel better, there are still some tuberculosis bacteria alive in your body. You can think of it as if the bacteria are sleeping. If you stop taking medicine, they can wake up and make you sick again. You must be tested to find out if all the bacteria are killed.

I am an adult, why must I be observed when I take medicine?

It is not you who must be observed, but it must be observed that the medicine is taken correctly, and that you don’t forget to take it. We know from experience that it is easy to forget to take the pills, especially for patients who begin to feel better. DOT has been introduced to help patients become completely well.

I have been told that I must eat well, but I have no appetite. How can I get a better appetite?

Eating small portions of food you like often can help with your appetite. You can also try to drink fruit juice and eat fruit and vegetables, particularly green vegetables. Fresh air and physical activity can also improve your appetite.

I have been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Will this be expensive?

No. Medicines for tuberculosis are free of charge for everyone. You are also entitled to reimbursement of other expenses you have in connection with the disease.

I am undergoing treatment for tuberculosis and am feeling better. My partner wishes to have sex, but I do not have the desire or the strength for that. What can I do?

It is important to not be pressured into having sex. Wait until you are interested in it. It is wise to talk to your partner about how you are doing. Since you are better now, the desire and strength to have sex will probably return eventually.

Can tuberculosis be infectious if one sleeps in the same bedding that a tuberculosis patient has slept in, or wears clothing that a tuberculosis patient has worn?

No, tuberculosis can not infect in this manner. Tuberculosis infects through breathing in the bacteria from the air. It is entirely safe to sleep in the same bedding as a tuberculosis patient, and wear the same clothing that a tuberculosis patient has worn.

Can tuberculosis be transmitted by drinking from the same cup?

No, tuberculosis cannot infect in this manner. Tuberculosis infects through breathing in the bacteria from the air. It is entirely safe to drink from the same cup as a tuberculosis patient. It is also important to remember that after approximately two weeks of treatment, one can no longer infect others.

Do you have more questions? You will find most all of the answers here in the brochure “You will recover from tuberculosis” (information in several languages).