Tuberculosis (TB)

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria. It is one of the leading causes of death in many developing countries.


Where is this disease found?

In the Netherlands, tuberculosis affects approximately 1,700 persons each year. This figure is very small compared to the number of cases in many developing countries, where the disease is one of the main causes of death. In many of those countries there is a connection with the extremely rapid growth in the number of HIV cases: people with HIV have decreased immunity, which makes them more vulnerable to tuberculosis.

How is this disease contracted?

Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium called tubercle bacillus and is transmitted by patients with active tuberculosis. The bacteria are coughed out from the lungs and people in the vicinity, especially in a confined space such as a room, can be infected via the exhaled air. Because the disease is transmitted through the air the risk of infection by contact with objects and food is relatively low. However, it is possible to contract the disease through drinking unpasteurised milk or eating dairy products made from infected milk.

What are the symptoms of the disease?

The tubercle bacilli move within the body through the blood and lymphatic vessels. They damage organs such as the lungs, lymph nodes, brain, meninges, kidneys, joints and spine. The symptoms of tuberculosis include coughing, fatigue, lassitude, weight loss and loss of appetite, a slight temperature and night sweats.


What action should you take?

Have the BCG vaccine if you are going to a country with a high incidence rate of tuberculosis for 3 months or longer. The vaccine is only prescribed for people who have never had tuberculosis and who have not previously been given the BCG vaccine. It does not reduce the risk of contracting tuberculosis but it does protect against possible serious consequences if the disease is contracted and increases the chance of survival. Four to five weeks following vaccination, a swelling appears where the injection was given, and a small ulcer is often present for a couple of weeks. The injection leaves a permanent (small) scar.


Other measures you can take include:

  • avoid overcrowded confined spaces;
  • when visiting the tropics, keep your distance from anyone who is coughing;
  • if you suspect you may have contracted the disease - or been in contact with someone who was infected - ask for a Mantoux and other Tuberculose test (ISRA) on your return to the Netherlands.


If your are suspected as having been infected with tubercle bacilli, your doctor may prescribe medication.

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