Why it's important to know if you have TB

In Southwark, your local NHS is keen to identify and treat anyone at risk of developing active tuberculosis (TB).  This is an infectious disease that can affect almost any part of the body, but affects the lungs in 50 per cent of cases. TB can become very serious if left untreated.

TB is caused by bacteria (germs) which are spread through the air. TB bacteria can sleep in your body, often for many years, without making you ill. This is called 'latent' TB. Latent TB is not infectious.  Sometimes the latent TB bacteria can 'wake up' and make you ill. This is called 'active' TB, and when you hear people talk about TB, this is usually what they mean.

Symptoms of active TB include a persistent cough; fever and heavy night sweats; loss of weight for no obvious reason; a general sense of tiredness and being unwell; and coughing up blood.  Half of all cases of TB affect the lungs, so you may have it if you are suffering general malaise without a cough or breathlessness. Latent TB does not have any symptoms however.

If you have latent TB, there is a one in 10 chance it will become active TB. Latent TB is more likely to become active if you are a smoker, so if you are diagnosed with latent TB and are a smoker, you would be advised to quit smoking to reduce the risk of developing the more serious active TB.

There are countries in the world where TB is more common and these include many African countries, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Greenland, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Papau New Guinea, Pakistan, Nepal and Thailand. If you have previously lived in one of these countries you have a greater risk of carrying TB.

If you are between 16 – 35 years of age and have come from any of these countries in the last five years, we recommend that you get a test which can tell whether you have TB. This is important as you may have caught TB before you arrived in the UK.  

Getting tested involves a quick blood test and a few simple questions. Selected pharmacists in Southwark can refer you to a local hospital to have this done.  These are:

  • Lings Chemist, 269 Old Kent Road, SE1 5LU
  • Jamaica Road Pharmacy, 182 Jamaica Road, SE16 4RT
  • Fourways Chemist, 36 Denmark Hill, SE5 8RZ

If your blood test shows that you have TB, you will be referred to Guy's or King's hospital TB service and given antibiotics.  It is important to complete this treatment, even if you have no symptoms, as identifying latent TB can help prevent it becoming active and then spreading to your family and friends.

 If you would like more information about TB, visit the NHS Choices website or see our leaflet:

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