Tuberculosis

Latest update: - Authors: Mieke Croughs, Ula Maniewski-Kelner

Tuberculosis (TBC) is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Infection occurs by breathing in droplets that have been coughed out by an infected person.

The risk of infection is low for ordinary tourists, but the risk increases for backpackers, health workers and other people in close contact with the local population, such as those visiting family.

The majority of infected individuals will never develop symptoms. Less than one in ten will develop symptoms after several months or years. Young children and people with immune disorders are more likely to become ill.

Symptoms of tuberculosis are:

  • Elevated temperature or fever
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss
  • (Night) sweating
  • Persistent coughing  

Risk areas

Tuberculosis occurs all over the world, but the risk of infection is higher in certain countries in Africa and Asia.

Prevention

Avoid cough droplets

Stay away from people with a bad cough. If this is not possible, breathe through your nose or cover your mouth with a tissue or scarf. 

Ask people who are coughing to cover their mouth with their hand or turn their face away from you.

Avoid poor ventilation

Avoid small, dark, poorly ventilated rooms, such as huts or shacks.

BCG vaccine

The BCG vaccine that is available offers only partial protection. However, the vaccine has not been available in Belgium for several years. It may be recommended in certain exceptional circumstances to obtain the vaccine upon arrival, for example for: 

  • Children younger than five years who are repeatedly visiting or spending more than six months in a high-risk country.  
  • Young children if this is required by child care facilities.

In case of symptoms

If you have no symptoms but were at risk of infection, for example due to a prolonged stay or living in an area with a high risk of tuberculosis, or because you’ve been in contact with someone with TBC, then you can be tested two months after your return home.

Seek medical advice if you suffer any symptoms.

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