Tuberculosis Information for Employers in Non-Healthcare
||Tuberculosis Information for Employers
in Non-Healthcare Settings
Posted: September 2007
What is tuberculosis (TB)?
Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium
tuberculosis that are spread from person to person through the air.
TB usually affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts
of the body, such as the brain, the kidneys, or the spine. Not everyone
infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. As a result, two TB-related
conditions exist: latent TB infection and active TB disease.
What is latent TB infection?
Persons with latent TB infection (LTBI) do not feel sick and do
not have any symptoms, but usually have a positive reaction to the
tuberculin skin test or QuantiFERONŽ-TB Gold blood test. They are
infected with TB bacteria, but do not have active TB disease.
Persons with LTBI are not infectious and cannot spread TB infection
What is active TB disease?
In some people, TB bacteria overcome the defenses of the immune
system and begin to multiply, resulting in the progression from
latent TB infection to active TB disease. Some people develop active
TB disease soon after infection, while others never develop active
TB disease or develop it later in life when their immune system
becomes weak. Persons with active TB disease usually have symptoms,
are considered infectious, and may spread TB bacteria to
|A person with latent
TB infection (LTBI)
||A person with active
|• Usually has a skin test
or blood test result indicating TB infection
||• Usually has a skin test
or blood test result indicating TB infection
|• Has a normal chest x-ray
and a negative sputum test
||• May have an abnormal chest
x-ray, or positive sputum smear or culture
|• Has TB bacteria in his/her
body that are alive, but inactive
||• Has active TB bacteria in
|• Does not feel sick
||• Usually feels sick and may
have symptoms such as coughing, fever, and weight loss
|• Cannot spread TB bacteria
||• May spread TB bacteria to
|• Needs treatment for latent
TB infection to prevent TB disease
||• Needs treatment for active
How is TB spread?
TB bacteria are released into the air when a person with TB disease
of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. These
bacteria can stay in the air for several hours, depending on the
environment. Persons who breathe in the air containing these TB
bacteria can become infected; this is called latent TB infection.
A person with latent TB infection cannot spread TB to others.
Persons with TB disease are most likely to spread the bacteria
to other people they spend time with every day, such as family members
or coworkers. Anyone who has been around someone who has TB disease
should go to the doctor or local health department for TB tests.
TB is not spread through eating utensils, countertops, chairs,
doorknobs, or other surfaces where a TB patient has been.
What are the symptoms of TB?
The general symptoms of TB disease include feelings of sickness
or weakness, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. The symptoms
of TB disease of the lungs may also include coughing, chest pain,
and the coughing up of blood. Symptoms of TB disease in other parts
of the body depend on the area affected.
What should I do if an employee reports having a positive TB test
or that he or she has been in contact with someone who has TB?
It is important to remember that only a person with active TB disease
can transmit TB bacteria to others. If an individual has been around
someone with TB disease, he or she can get TB infection. However,
not everyone infected with TB germs becomes sick. A person with
latent TB infection cannot spread germs to other people, but can
develop active TB disease in the future.
For additional information, you should contact your local
or state TB control program. They can advise you about what
should be done.
What will happen after I contact my local or state TB control
program for assistance?
The TB control program will determine if the employee has latent
TB infection or TB disease. Since people with latent TB infection
cannot spread TB to others, nothing further will need to be done
in the workplace. However, if the employee has active TB disease,
the TB control program may start a contact investigation. The investigation
will help them find out how the employee may have been exposed to
TB and to determine who else might be at risk.
During the investigation, the health department will ask the employee
about his or her job, such as the work hours, working conditions,
and people who work closely with him or her. The TB control program
may set up an appointment to talk with you and to tour your workplace.
They may also want to talk to people who regularly visit your workplace.
Throughout the investigation, they will work with you to make sure
that the employee’s identity is kept confidential.
CDC. Questions and Answers
About TB (2007).
CDC. Tuberculosis: General Information (2007).
CDC. The Difference Between Latent
TB Infection and Active TB Disease (2007).
CDC. QuantiFERONŽ-TB Gold Test (2006).
CDC. Tuberculin Skin Testing (2007).
Your Family and Friends from TB: The TB Contact Investigation (2005).