Prevention of Tuberculosis: 8 Ways to Slow Transmission

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Tuberculosis (TB) is a preventable bacterial infection. Prevention focuses on treating latent TB (when the condition lives in your body but doesn't make you sick) to halt the active disease, early diagnosis, and vaccination. 

This article provides an overview of TB prevention strategies and how to implement them. 

Doctor explaining X-ray results to a patient

Visoot Uthairam / Getty Images

Tuberculosis Prevention Measures

TB is a serious disease that can be fatal if left untreated. Fortunately, there are several prevention measures available. This is especially important for people more vulnerable to TB, such as those living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or frequently exposed to TB.

How TB Spreads

TB is an airborne disease, meaning particles of TB bacteria are carried in the air. It can spread whenever an infected person coughs, speaks, sneezes, or sings. TB is not spread through shaking hands, hugging, or sharing a bathroom. Once you breathe in TB bacteria, it can settle into your lungs and spread from there. TB spreads quickly in homes, hospitals, and close living quarters like dorms or hostels. 

Vaccination in Children and Adults

The Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine protects against TB. The BCG vaccine is commonly given to infants and children in countries with high rates of TB infections. In the United States, it is given to certain healthcare workers. The BCG vaccine is a live vaccine and is not safe for those who are immunocompromised. 

The BCG vaccine is 70% to 80% effective at protecting against the most serious forms of TB, like TB meningitis. However, it is not as effective at protecting against lung TB infections. 

Immune Health

People with compromised immune systems are most at risk of becoming ill from TB. This includes those with HIV or any condition that affects the immune system. People who inject illicit drugs are also at an increased risk, as well as infants, young children, and older people. 

Having a healthy immune system is an important part of being able to fight off a TB infection. Talk with your healthcare provider about any steps you can take to strengthen your body’s immune system. 

At-Home Quarantine

Individuals with active TB must quarantine at home to keep the disease from spreading. TB can spread through a community quickly. It is essential to stop the spread by strictly following quarantine recommendations. The U.S. government requires those with infectious TB to isolate per quarantine law.


TB is a curable disease. The treatment for TB includes medication that may need to be taken for four, six, or nine months. The length of treatment depends on which drugs are used and why.

A four-month rifapentine-moxifloxacin regimen is preferred in the United States because it allows people to finish treatment faster, which helps with compliance (following through with treatment). It includes daily administration of rifapentine, isoniazid, pyrazinamide, and moxifloxacin for the first eight weeks, followed by rifapentine, isoniazid, and moxifloxacin each day for nine weeks.

People with drug-resistant TB require a longer treatment course. The six- to nine-month treatment plan is more intense and starts with taking isoniazid, rifampin, ethambutol, and pyrazinamide for two months, followed by four to seven months of isoniazid and rifampicin.

Early Diagnosis and Testing

Getting an early diagnosis of TB is the best way to prevent its spread. If you believe you have been exposed to TB, see your healthcare provider immediately. 

The first step is to undergo a TB skin or blood test, which is used to detect both active and latent TB. People who have received the BCG vaccine in the past will also have a positive skin test. Only people with active TB can spread the disease to others. 

If your skin or blood test returns positive, your medical team will recommend a chest X-ray and sputum sample to determine if you have active TB disease. After exposure to TB, it is possible to become sick either immediately or months later.

People with latent TB have the infection but cannot spread it to others. Latent TB does not cause any physical symptoms. Latent TB can turn into an active disease in the future. This is more likely to occur in those who are immunocompromised.

Precautions to Lower TB Exposure and Transmission

If you are living in or traveling to an area with an increased risk of exposure, there are measures you can take to protect yourself. 

During Travel

If you plan a trip to a country with high rates of TB, talk with your healthcare provider first. Before your trip, they may suggest a TB skin test. When you return from your trip, repeat the skin test eight to 10 weeks after getting home. 

If you are participating in a service or medical mission abroad, talk about their TB prevention protocols with your trip organizers. Ask if the organization provides personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 masks. Places where TB can spread quickly include crowded hospitals, incarceration centers, homeless shelters, and other buildings with people living in close quarters.

In Medical Settings

People who work in medical settings are at increased risk of being exposed to TB. Hospitals and medical centers can lower the risk by implementing infection control policies and following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Healthcare providers should be tested for TB regularly and have access to PPE when needed. TB is an airborne disease, and healthcare workers require an N95 mask to protect themselves. 


Simple hygiene measures can help prevent the spread of TB. People with active TB need to cough or sneeze into disposable tissues to lower the risk of spreading the disease. Used tissues must be disposed of right away. Handwashing is important for individuals with TB and anyone who comes in close contact with them.


TB is a serious and potentially fatal disease spread through the air. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent the spread of disease. Proven prevention methods include vaccination, testing, early diagnosis, quarantine, and medication treatment. Immune health and hygiene are also important ways to stop the spread. Individuals who are at increased risk of being exposed include healthcare workers, international travelers, and those who are immunocompromised.

A Word From Verywell

TB is a serious disease, and the thought of being exposed to it can create anxiety. If you live or work in an area at risk, talk with your healthcare provider about how to best protect yourself. TB is curable and even preventable with all the tools available today. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What should you not do if you have TB?

    When you have TB, avoiding going out or having close contact with others is vital. Quarantine at home and work with your healthcare provider or local health department to determine when it is safe to leave.

  • How long do the symptoms of tuberculosis last?

    Symptoms of TB include a severe cough, chest pain, coughing up blood, fever, weakness, fatigue, chills, and night sweats. The cough can last at least three weeks or longer.

  • How effective are tuberculosis vaccines?

    The BCG vaccine is 70% to 80% effective at protecting against the most severe forms of TB. However, it is not as effective at protecting against lung TB infection. 

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basic TB facts.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tuberculosis

  3. World Health Organization. TB prevention.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines.

  5. Vaccine Knowledge Project. BCG vaccine (TB vaccine).

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. TB prevention.

  7. The Department of Health and Human Services. What diseases are subject to Federal isolation and quarantine law?

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treatment for TB disease.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exposure to TB.

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. International travelers.

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infection control & prevention | TB guidelines.

  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Signs & symptoms.

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.