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Tuberculosis (Active TB): Care Instructions

The lungs


Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious infection caused by bacteria. It usually occurs in the lungs, but it can spread to other parts of the body. TB spreads to other people through the air. When someone with TB breathes out or coughs, the bacteria can be breathed in by people who are nearby. You should not go to work or school while you can infect other people.

Symptoms of TB include a cough and a fever. You may feel tired and weak. And you may not feel like eating.

Treatment involves taking antibiotic medicines. It's very important to take your medicines as your doctor tells you to. It takes a long time to kill the TB bacteria. Treatment can last 4 to 9 months or longer. During your treatment you'll see your doctor for tests to see how the medicines are working. Your doctor will help guide you through this long process.

You may have directly observed therapy (DOT). DOT ensures that you'll take the needed medicine on schedule. That's the best way to ensure you will be cured of TB. A public health official may be involved with your care.

You will start to feel better after taking your medicine for a few weeks. And you may not be able to infect others at this point. But don't go back to work or school until your doctor tells you it's okay.

If you live with other people, ask them to be tested for TB. A positive tuberculin skin test means that the person needs treatment to prevent TB.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Take your medicine with food to help avoid an upset stomach.
  • Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. After you cough, throw the tissue away in a covered container.
  • Avoid public areas until you have been told that you cannot spread TB. This includes areas such as buses, subways, and other closed spaces.
  • Wear a mask when you are around other people.
  • Talk to your doctor about drinking alcohol. Alcohol may interact with your medicine and cause side effects.
  • If you don't have directly observed therapy (DOT), you can do things to help remind yourself to take the medicine:
    • Take your medicine at the same time every day.
    • Set a reminder alarm.
    • Use a pillbox.
    • Put a reminder note on your mirror or refrigerator.
    • Mark a calendar after you take your medicine.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You are coughing up a lot of blood.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are short of breath.
  • You have a new or worse cough.
  • You are coughing up a small amount of blood.
  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have new or worse diarrhea.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You lose weight.
  • You have night sweats.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.