How fast can tuberculosis symptoms appear?
July 1, 2006 4:22 AM   Subscribe

How fast can tuberculosis symptoms appear?

I went to a party for a friend last night at her parents house. It was only after we left that she mentioned her dad was recovering from tb and was in the hospital with it two weeks ago. Her sister tested positive for it as well.

I was only there for two or three hours, but this morning I woke up coughing, achy chest, and with a scratchy throat. Coincidence?

Could symptoms show up that quickly or am I just paranoid? Getting married in two weeks, so stress levels are high already and of course, worst-case-senarios are playing through my head.

Anyone have experience with this?
posted by saucy to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
According to the American Lung Association, "Once treatment begins, a patient ordinarily quickly becomes noninfectious," and infection is generally only transmitted by close daily contact (i.e. among people who live together or work closely together, not through casual or brief contact).

Wikipedia says that ten percent of those infected develop TB, half "within two years" and half sometime later in their lives.

If you're really panicked, see a doctor, but keep in mind that if you were infected, a skin test may still be negative for several weeks. This page states that the incubation period for TB varies from weeks to years--I'd only be worried if there's something else compromising your immune system.
posted by Cricket at 4:58 AM on July 1, 2006

(Oh, standard disclaimer: IANAD or medical professional)
posted by Cricket at 4:59 AM on July 1, 2006

I don't believe it can appear so fast unless you were both immunocompromised and exposed to extraordinary levels of cough aerosol. IANAD though. What I can tell you with certainty is that the Mantoux skin test is unbelievably quick and convenient, not very expensive, and will tell you for certain if you've ever been exposed to TB (with or without becoming ill). They prick your arm with a small amount of protein extract, then have you come back in a couple of days to see if there is a substantial bump on that location or not. If there is, they'll have you for chest x-rays and all the rest of it; if not, you're clean.
posted by eritain at 5:01 AM on July 1, 2006

Complete co-incidence. Sounds like you have a cold. IANAD but:

TB is not airborne. If it was as easy to catch as being in the same room with someone for a couple of hours, then it would be an epidemic and half the world would be infected. She doesn't have it, neither does her mother. And her sister testing positive doesn't necessarily mean she has it either, only that she's been exposed to it. And I assume they all spend a lot more time with her father.

Your symptoms don't indicate TB. Symptoms of pulmonary TB include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite and weight, night sweats and persistent cough. Phlegm coughed up may be streaked with blood. (from NHS website)

You would not be getting symptoms the morning after, either. It takes a lot longer to develop.

Speak to your friend for reassurance. She'll know much more about it. And think about it - if it was that contagious, her parents wouldn't be hosting a party for close friends and family.

So please, don't worry!
posted by bella.bellona at 5:04 AM on July 1, 2006

Response by poster: thanks all,

I knew I was probably being a hypochondriac about this, but I feel better having been reassured.
posted by saucy at 5:19 AM on July 1, 2006

It would be interesting to know how the father managed to get TB in the first place , if it isn't that contagious.
posted by elpapacito at 5:49 AM on July 1, 2006

My mum got TB a few years back. She already had a weak immune system from a bout of pneumonia. Presumably she picked it up in the hospital where she works, or on one of her health visits (she's a nurse).

She's fine now, and none of her immediate family (me included!) picked it up from her. I had to have a full medical for a visa a year or two later and the Commonwealth of Australia didn't bat an eyelid at the connection, despite most Western countries being very strict on any history of TB. I infer from this that it's pretty hard to get!
posted by caek at 6:00 AM on July 1, 2006

A good friend of mine tested positive when he was in med school and he assured me that he was not contagious and that he technically didn't have the disease. They put him on antibiotics for about 6 months and I hung out with him the entire time and I never got it. I don't think you can get it from casual contact but I'm not a doctor.
posted by any major dude at 6:44 AM on July 1, 2006

TB is very unusual among bacterial infection. Most bacteria divide about every half hour given favorable circumstances (i.e. inside you) but TB divides about every 12 hours. That's why it takes a long time to treat. And that's why it takes months after exposure for onset of symptoms.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:49 AM on July 1, 2006

Sounds like you have a cold. IANAD but:
TB is not airborne.

You're right, bella.bellona, you're definitely not a doctor, because TB is definitely airborne and definitely highly infectious.

We don't put people who have the symptoms of TB in negative pressure rooms for nothing.

To saucy: While I don't have any data, I highly, highly doubt it. And even if you do have it, the test to confirm it wouldn't be positive yet, anyway; the PPD skin test is positive because the body's immune cells react to the TB chemical injected into the skin.

TB exposure is high, but only a small percentage of people exposed get a positive PPD, and only a percentage of those those convert to actual "infection."
posted by gramcracker at 8:40 AM on July 1, 2006

Yeah, what's with the horrificly bad medical information?

Listen to gramcracker. To repeat for emphasis; TB is definitely infectious. TB is spread through inhaling bacteria coughed or sneezed into the air.

Don't make up medical information, please.
posted by Justinian at 5:28 PM on July 1, 2006

This is the problem with soliciting medical advice on the internet: some people have no idea what they are talking about, and you don't necessarily know who those people are. As gramcracker and Justinian pointed out, TB is DEFINATELY an airborne, infectious disease. Furthermore, TB is a major epidemic-- although it is increasingly rare in the Western world, it is a huge public health problem in many countries and is currently the world's leading infectious cause of death.

That being said, what you are experiencing could not possibly be the result a recent exposure to TB. The minimum incubation period for tuberculosis is in the several week range, and in an otherwise healthy person, it would generally take even longer to emerge. In fact, for most healthy people, exposure to TB will not result in active tuberculosis at all. Unless you are elderly or have an immune system that is compromised for some other reason, I wouldn't be at all concerned about possible exposure.

Furthermore, the symptoms you describe are not typical early symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis. The infection would grow very slowly in your lungs, gradually erroding pulmonary tissue and restricting your ability to breathe. It would take a while before enough damage was done to create a persistant cough, and in the mean time you would experience things more like fatique, weight loss, and a low-grade fever. It sounds to me like you have a cough. No need to worry.
posted by bookish at 7:04 PM on July 1, 2006

TB is not airborne. If it was as easy to catch as being in the same room with someone for a couple of hours, then it would be an epidemic and half the world would be infected.

No, that's wrong. It's completely false and incorrect. TB is airborne-transmitted and is quite persistent in the environment. And, yo, there *is* a worldwide TB epidemic. Learn more.

I agree, however, that the symptoms aren't likely to show up within 12 hours after exposure. However, I think that if I had been in the situation described, I would assume I'd been exposed to TB and mention it at my next doctor's visit, where I would expect to receive a PPD test.

Since I'm not *your* doctor, I can't advise you as to what *you* should do.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:36 PM on July 1, 2006

Sorry saucy and everyone for the incorrect information - it's actually what I was told by a TB nurse when I was being tested a couple of years ago...
posted by bella.bellona at 2:55 AM on July 2, 2006

Ugh. That's kinda scary.
posted by Justinian at 5:03 AM on July 2, 2006

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