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Q&A
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Is spinal tuberculosis contagious?

Answered by: Dr. Anuj Sharma
Senior Consultant Microbiologist
Sir Ganga Ram Hospital
Delhi

Q. Is spinal tuberculosis contagious?

A.  Although tuberculosis is contagious, it's not especially easy to catch. In general, you need long-term contact with an infected person to become infected yourself. You are much more likely to catch tuberculosis from a family member or close co-worker than from a stranger on a bus or in a restaurant. If you have active TB, you are likely to feel sick, although it's possible to have an active infection in your lungs without having symptoms. But even if you don't feel sick, if the disease is active you still can transmit it to others by coughing, sneezing or talking. Virtually any area of the body can be involved in tuberculosis. Some of the more common sites are the lymph nodes, the bones and the meninges (the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord). Lymph-node TB in the neck is called scrofula - the usual symptom is a painless red mass in the neck. In bone disease, the spine is typically involved; it is also called Potts disease, and it usually causes back pain lasting weeks to months. M. tuberculosis can also infect the joints, with slowly progressive swelling and pain, usually of a large joint such as the knee. In all of the above "extra-pulmonary" (outside the lung) forms of tuberculosis, the lung is typically not actively involved. If that is the case, then the patient is not contagious.

A.  Although tuberculosis is contagious, it's not especially easy to catch. In general, you need long-term contact with an infected person to become infected yourself. You are much more likely to catch tuberculosis from a family member or close co-worker than from a stranger on a bus or in a restaurant. If you have active TB, you are likely to feel sick, although it's possible to have an active infection in your lungs without having symptoms. But even if you don't feel sick, if the disease is active you still can transmit it to others by coughing, sneezing or talking. Virtually any area of the body can be involved in tuberculosis. Some of the more common sites are the lymph nodes, the bones and the meninges (the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord). Lymph-node TB in the neck is called scrofula - the usual symptom is a painless red mass in the neck. In bone disease, the spine is typically involved; it is also called Potts disease, and it usually causes back pain lasting weeks to months. M. tuberculosis can also infect the joints, with slowly progressive swelling and pain, usually of a large joint such as the knee. In all of the above "extra-pulmonary" (outside the lung) forms of tuberculosis, the lung is typically not actively involved. If that is the case, then the patient is not contagious.

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