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Travel health information for people travelling abroad from the UK

Tuberculosis

Introduction

Tuberculosis is found throughout the world. Areas of particular risk include Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Countries with most cases include India, Indoensia, China, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection of the mycobacterium tuberculosis family. It is commonly spread through droplets from respiratory secretions of an infected person e.g. through coughs and sneezes. The disease can also be spread through infected unpasteurised milk.

The Illness

Tuberculosis can affect any part of the body and symptoms are varied depending on the part of the body that has been infected. General symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, night sweats and tiredness.

Respiratory tuberculosis can cause a persistent, productive cough and may be accompanied by blood-streaked sputum. This is the most significant type of tuberculosis as it can be transmitted to others through coughs etc. (see above). Transmission is through prolonged close contact such as in households.

Treatment

Treatment for tuberculosis is carried out via specialist medical centres using combination drug/antibiotic therapy. Treatment can be prolonged lasting 6 months. Adherence to treatment is important to prevent antibiotic resitance developing.

Recommendations for Travellers

In the United Kingdom, routine BCG vaccination for teenagers was discontinued in 2005. Children of parents who come from a country of high incidence will be vaccinated at birth.

BCG may be required for those who have not previously been vaccinated and to tuberculin negative individuals according to the destination and the nature of travel. The vaccine is recommended for those under 16 years of age who are going to live and work with local people for more than three months in an area where the incidence of tuberculosis is high.

Individuals who could be at risk through occupational exposure may be vaccinated beyond the age of 16 years.

If you have concerns regarding exposure to tuberculosis before or after travel please speak to your health care provider for more information. 

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