Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by a microbe called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is invisible to the naked eye and usually found in the lungs. TB is a serious disease if not treated in time. It is treated through medication (antibiotics).
Active TB can be very contagious. When a person with pulmonary TB coughs or sneezes, microdroplets of expectorations containing TB microbes are projected in the air and can remain suspended for hours, especially in confined spaces.
TB microbes can also spread through the air when someone cries, shouts, laughs, speaks or simply breathes. TB is not spread through handshakes or mere touching.
Below is what can happen when a person breathes in microdroplets containing TB microbes:
- Nothing will happen if the person only spends a short time in the same room with a contagious person with active TB;
- Active TB can develop and, after a certain time, the person becomes sick, develops a persistent cough and then becomes contagious. He or she will need immediate medical treatment;
- A person can also be infected with what is called latent (or sleeping) TB. Latent TB is confined to the lungs where it can remain inactive for the person’s entire life without manifesting itself. It does not make the person sick and is not spread to others. An efficient immune system creates a barrier around the microbes and prevents them from spreading. They are therefore safely confined to the lungs. But be careful! The disease can evolve at any time, especially during the first two years after infection. Without treatment, about 1 in 10 persons infected with latent TB will develop active TB during his or her lifetime. That is why latent TB must be treated and eliminated from the organism. Treatment must be followed rigorously in order to be effective.
If not treated, TB can be mortal. Over the past few years in Nunavik, one death has been specifically attributed to TB.