The differences between latent and active TB
In the video above, Dr O’Moore explains the difference between latent and active TB.
Latent TB Infection (LTBI)
TB bacteria can live in the body without making you sick. This is called latent TB infection. In most people who breathe in TB bacteria and become infected, the body is able to fight the bacteria to stop them from growing. People with latent TB infection:
• Have no symptoms
• Don’t feel sick
• Can’t spread TB bacteria to others
• Usually have a positive TB skin test reaction or positive TB blood test
• May develop TB disease if they do not receive treatment for latent TB infection
Many people who have Latent TB Infection never develop TB disease. In these people, the TB bacteria remain inactive for a lifetime without causing disease. But in other people, especially people who have a weak immune system, the bacteria become active, multiply, and cause TB disease. People in prison are more likely to have weak immune systems related to other infections (such as HIV) as well as poor diet and general health.
Active TB Disease
TB bacteria become active if the immune system cannot stop them from growing. When TB bacteria are active (multiplying in your body), this is called TB disease. People with TB disease are sick. They may also be able to spread the bacteria to people they spend time with every day.
Many people who have latent TB infection never develop TB disease. Some people develop TB disease soon after becoming infected (within weeks) before their immune system can fight the TB bacteria. Other people may get sick years later when their immune system becomes weak for another reason.
For people whose immune systems are weak, especially those with HIV infection, the risk of developing TB disease is much higher than for people with normal immune systems.
© Public Health England