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What increases my risk for tuberculosis (TB)?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Tuberculosis (TB) bacteria spread through the air, so you are at higher risk for exposure if you live or work closely with people who have tuberculosis - or in places where TB is likely to crop up, such as prisons, homeless shelters, hospitals, and nursing homes. Tuberculosis is most common in parts of Africa and Asia, so people from these areas or those who travel there are more likely to be exposed to TB.

However, most people who become infected with TB will never get sick from it. A healthy immune system can fight the infection and force it into a dormant state, but if the immune system weakens, active tuberculosis can develop. Young children and older people are particularly vulnerable. Other risk factors that weaken immunity include:

  • Diseases such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, silicosis, advanced kidney disease, and some cancers
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Malnutrition
  • Certain medications including corticosteroids, chemotherapy, and some treatments for Crohn's disease or arthritis
  • Organ transplant
Your risk of developing tuberculosis (TB) is considered high if you belong to any of these groups:
  • Immigrants from countries where TB is widespread (most countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America)
  • Low-income populations that have limited medical services
  • Injection drug users
  • Residents of long-term care facilities (such as correctional institutions, mental institutions, and nursing homes)
  • Those who have conditions that increase the risk of TB
  • Alcoholics
  • Infants and children under 4 years of age
Your risk of developing TB is considered very high if you belong to any of these groups:
  • Those infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) -- This group is 100 times more likely to develop active TB than those who have normal immune systems.
  • Those who have abnormal chest X-rays
  • Recent contacts of people infected with TB (including health workers)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.