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Written on 2nd June 2020 by Julie Marsh

Tuberculosis or TB is one of the top 10 causes of death in the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) stated in its 2019 report that TB was the leading cause of death from a single type of infection.

Whilst the world’s focus is currently on the COVID 19 pandemic, which will undoubtedly feature in the WHO’s statistics for 2020, it is important not to underestimate the ongoing threat of TB and the impact it has on those who contract the infection. According to WHO, a quarter of the world’s population are already infected with the TB bacteria and are, therefore, at risk of developing TB disease.

How common is TB in England?

Public Health England’s 2019 report suggested that the number of new cases of TB has fallen to its lowest level since 1960, when their records began. The data shows a 44% drop in the number of new cases diagnosed between 2011 and 2018. The biggest fall in diagnoses occurred between 2017 and 2018. Despite the decline in new diagnoses, TB still affects nearly 5,000 people a year in the UK. This is no time to be complacent about this dangerous infection.

How does TB spread?

TB is caused by a bacterium (a type of germ) called bacillus mycobacterium tuberculosis. This bacterium is spread when droplets of sputum are expelled into the air. One common way in which this happens is by an infected person coughing.

What is pulmonary TB?

Pulmonary TB is the type of TB in which the bacteria affects the lungs. Symptoms often include a persistent cough that goes on for longer than 3 weeks and brings up phlegm. Another common symptom is persistent breathlessness.

How is pulmonary TB diagnosed?

Pulmonary TB can be difficult to diagnose. A number of different tests may be required to confirm the diagnosis. These might include:

  • a chest X-ray to check for changes in the appearance of the infected person’s lungs
  • having samples of phlegm sent for testing to check for the TB bacteria

What is the treatment for pulmonary TB?

After a diagnosis of pulmonary TB is made, the infected person will usually need to take a course of antibiotics for 6 months. After taking the antibiotics for two weeks, most people are no longer contagious. They still need to take their antibiotics but generally start to feel better.

What is extrapulmonary TB?

Extrapulmonary TB affects other parts of the body instead of the lungs, such as the bones, the digestive system or the nervous system. It can cause other conditions, such as TB meningitis. This type of TB is less common than pulmonary TB. Around 15-20% of all active TB cases are extrapulmonary TB.

Symptoms of extrapulmonary TB may include:

  • abdominal pain
  • confusion
  • persistent headache or seizure
  • pain or loss of movement in a joint

How is extrapulmonary TB diagnosed?

Different tests are required for extrapulmonary TB and they may differ depending on what area of the body is thought to be affected. They might include:

  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • endoscopy or laparoscopy
  • urine and blood tests
  • biopsy

What is the treatment for extrapulmonary TB?

Extrapulmonary TB is often treated in the same way as pulmonary TB – with antibiotics. If the infection has spread to the membranes around the brain, the patient may also need to take a corticosteroid to help reduce any swelling.

What is TB Meningitis?

TB meningitis occurs when infection from other parts of the body travel via the bloodstream to the meninges - the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord – causing them to become inflamed. According to Meningitis Now, 1-2% of TB cases result in TB meningitis.

TB meningitis often develops slowly, causing general aches and pains, loss of appetite and tiredness. Symptoms can last for several weeks before a diagnosis is made. The condition may not be recognised until more severe meningitis symptoms occur, such as severe headache, neck stiffness and a dislike of bright lights.

What is latent TB?

TB bacteria can live in your body without making you feel unwell. This is known as latent TB. When most people inhale TB bacteria and become infected, their body can fight the bacteria, preventing the development of active TB.

Is there a test for latent TB?

Yes. If someone has been in contact with a person with active TB, then they can be tested for the disease. The Mantoux test for TB involves an injection of a small amount of PPD (purified protein derivative) tuberculin into the skin of the forearm. A small red bump will form at the site of the injection if the person has latent TB infection.

Do I need treatment if I only have latent TB?

Anyone with latent TB will need to undergo regular testing to ensure the infection does not become active. For those with latent TB who are over 65 years old, treatment with antibiotics is usually recommended.

What is active TB?

Active TB is where the tuberculosis bacteria become active in the body, causing the infected person to become unwell. It is essential that anyone with active TB receives treatment promptly to avoid life-threatening illness or permanent disability.

Is there a vaccine for TB?

Yes. The BCG is effective in babies and young children. It is also recommended for people whose jobs put them at risk, such as healthcare, laboratory and prison workers.

Boyes Turner can help claim compensation after delayed diagnosis and treatment of TB

Boyes Turner’s medical negligence lawyers are experienced in helping people who have suffered severe injury as a result of delayed diagnosis of treatment for TB. We understand the condition and its devastating impact on our clients.

Our recent cases include a £2 million settlement for a woman left with significant respiratory disability after a four-year delay in diagnosis of TB.

If you have suffered serious permanent injury as a result of medical negligence, and would like to find out more about making a claim, contact us by email at