Health & Safety Department

Tuberculosis (TB)

Information for staff and students on tuberculosis

What is Tuberculosis (TB)

TB is a bacterial infection. TB that affects the lungs is the most contagious type, but it usually only spreads after prolonged exposure to someone with the illness. 

It is spread when a person with active TB disease in their lungs coughs or sneezes and someone else inhales the expelled droplets, which contain TB bacteria.  Although TB is spread in a similar way to a cold or the flu, it isn't as contagious and is quite difficult to catch. TB is not spread by sharing cutlery, mugs, dishes, etc or short contacts such as sitting next to someone on a bus.

TB is a serious condition, but it is curable with a course of antibiotics, usually lasting six months.


Not everyone with TB is infectious. People with a TB infection that occurs outside the lungs don't spread the infection.

In most healthy people, the immune system is able to destroy the bacteria that cause TB.  In some cases, the bacteria infect the body but don't cause any symptoms (latent TB), or the infection begins to cause symptoms within weeks, months or even years (active TB).  Up to 10% of people with latent TB eventually develop active TB years after the initial infection.

People who are ill with TB may display some of the following symptoms. 

  • A cough that lasts for more than three weeks
  • Fever (high temperature)
  • Heavy night sweats
  • Loss of Appetite   
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredeness)          

If you experience the above symptoms for more than three weeks or have concerns about your general health you should contact your own GP.                                                          


With treatment, TB can almost always be cured. A course of antibiotics will usually need to be taken for six months.  

Several different antibiotics are used because some forms of TB are resistant to certain antibiotics.  If you're diagnosed with pulmonary TB, you'll be contagious for about two to three weeks into your course of treatment.

A person diagnosed with TB should stay away from work, college or university until their TB treatment team advises them it’s safe to return, to reduce the risk of spreading the infection. 

What if someone I know has TB?

There is no reason to stop any of your daily activities.  Even if you have been a contact of a case of infectious TB, you only have a small chance of developing TB.

When someone is diagnosed with TB, their treatment team will assess whether other people are at risk of infection.

This may include close contacts, such as people living with the person who has TB, as well as casual contacts, such as work colleagues and social contacts.  Anyone who's thought to be at risk will be asked to go for testing, and will be given advice and any necessary treatment after their results.

Information for staff and students on registering with a Doctor (General Practitioner) in Scotland 

You should register with a local Doctor soon after starting University in case you need medical advice/treatment whilst you are here.  For more information on this please see:

Medical Treatment

New To Lothian ? Know who you can turn to for healthcare

Further Information

Further general information about TB is available online at:


Leaflets about TB can be downloaded here.

Tuberculosis (TB): Your Questions Answered 

Contact tracing and screening for tuberculosis (TB)