What is Tuberculosis (TB)?

Written by David Miller, Public Health Nurse, on April 30, 2021.

TB is a disease caused by a bacterium (germ) that usually attacks the lungs and is passed from person to person through the air.  TB can be cured with medication, but it takes 6 to 9 months to treat.   Without proper treatment about half the people with this disease will remain sick and may die.  However, not everyone infected with TB will become sick and spread the germ to other people.  

Latent Infection vs. Active Disease

There are two stages of TB - latent infection and active disease.

Latent Infection

  • A small amount of the germ is in your body but is not causing symptoms.
  • You cannot give the germ to others.
  • A TB blood test or TB skin test will tell you if you have it.
  • You can take medicine to get rid of the infection, so you do not get active disease.

Active Disease

  • You are sick and having symptoms: cough for 3 weeks or longer, weight loss, fever, sweating at night, pain in the chest, and coughing up blood.
  • You can give the germ to other people.
  • Without treatment you can become very sick, and many people die.


Who is at Risk for TB?

You are more at risk for TB disease if you were recently infected with the germ.   Here are some examples of people at higher risk:

  • You have been around someone with active TB disease.
  • You have immigrated from areas of the world with high rates of TB.
  • Children under 5 years of age who have a positive TB test.
  • Homeless people, people who inject drugs, or those with HIV infection.
  • You work or live with people who are at high risk for TB, such as at a homeless shelter, a jail or prison, a group home for those with HIV, or certain healthcare facilities.

People with certain medical conditions are also at risk for TB disease because their condition can make their immune system weaker. Click here to learn what medical conditions are most at risk. 

What You Can Do to Protect Your Health

The best way to prevent TB disease is to know your risk, get tested by your healthcare provider if you are at risk, and take medicine if you have latent TB infection.   If your healthcare provider recommends you take medicine for latent TB, take the medicine as directed to get the most benefit and prevent TB disease. By doing this you will protect your health and the health of those around you. 

For more information, please visit:


Barberis, I., Bragazzi, N. L., Galluzzo, L., & Martini, M. (2017). The history of tuberculosis: From the first historical records to the isolation of Koch’s bacillus. Journal of Preventive Medicine and Hygiene, 58(1), E9–E12. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Tuberculosis (TB)

World Health Organization. (n.d.). Tuberculosis 

Where Can I Get a TB Test?

The Yakima Health District does not provide TB testing to the general public, but you can get testing at any of the providers below or from your primary care provider.  Please see this full list of TB Skin Testing Locations.

If you have any questions or didn't find what you were looking for please call 509-249-6528.