Tuberculosis is spread from person to person via droplets in the air from coughing or sneezing. On rare occasions, it is spread via contaminated milk in the tropics.

Once an individual is infected they can remain without symptoms or go on to experience weight loss and general ill health. Tuberculosis most commonly affects the lungs and is accompanied by persistent coughing, blood stained sputum (phlegm), chest pain and fever.

Who is at risk of Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is found all over the world with China and India having the highest number of cases and Africa having the most deaths. In the UK, there has been a 25% increase in cases in the last ten years mainly among those from Asian backgrounds.

TB can only be caught from someone who already has the disease.

In the UK, routine vaccination of all school children is no longer practiced (DOH July 2005). A new vaccination programme now targets those children and adults at highest risk to the disease.

For those travelling to high-risk areas, such as Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of South America, proof of immunity is recommended.

How can I prevent Tuberculosis?

Partial protection is gained through BCG vaccination. The vaccination is only given at the presentation of a negative mantoux or heaf test. Only newborn babies are vaccinated without the test.

It is essential for all travellers going overseas to have a test and the subsequent vaccination if required. It is possible that immunity after vaccination is not lifelong and therefore all persons moving abroad to work in risk areas should consider testing, especially if the vaccination scar is not present. For advice regarding BCG, you should make an appointment with your family doctor or Travel clinic nurse.

For those with TB, treatment involves a variety of antibiotics taken over a period of months. The treatment will cure the disease ONLY if the treatment is continued until the end of the course. Because many people feel better, they stop taking the medication and this results in a recurrence of the disease.


Please note that the recommendations in other countries may differ from those in the UK and local advice should be sought.

European BCG Recommendations

Australian BCG Recommendations

American BCG Recommendations

Resources for TB

The DOH has provided answers to many common concerns about the jab

NHS Immunisation Information Service has produced multi-lingual fact sheets about TB and other vaccine preventable diseases

Amazon has a collection of books covering history and medical treatment of TB including Timebomb: The Global Epidemic of Multi-drug-resistant Tuberculosis (Paperback) £6.95

Health Protection Agency provides excellent information and reports on Tuberculosis with latest health reports and epidemiological data from the UK and abroad.


Note: This information is designed to complement and not replace the relationship that exists with your existing family doctor or travel health professional.  Please discuss your travel health requirements with your regular family doctor or practice nurse.