Harvard Health Letter

Ask the doctor: Do I need a tuberculosis test?

Q. Why is my doctor checking me for tuberculosis? I thought that was eradicated long ago

A. It would be wonderful if tuberculosis (TB) had been eradicated long ago, but unfortunately that's not the case. It is true that the annual number of new cases in the United States has been dropping over the past 20 years; in 2013, there were about 9,500 new cases. However, around the world, particularly in developing nations, TB remains a huge problem. In 2013, there were nine million new cases of TB, and 1.5 million deaths from TB, in the world.

TB is an infectious disease, caused by a particular kind of bacteria. The infection usually is in the lungs, although it can spread to other parts of the body. It is highly contagious. A person with an active lung infection can spread the bacteria to other people by coughing into the air that others breathe.

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