Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person.
It is a serious condition, but can be cured with proper treatment.
TB mainly affects the lungs. However, it can affect any part of the body, including the glands, bones and nervous system.
Sometimes the immune system cannot kill the bacteria, but manages to prevent it spreading in the body. This means you will not have any symptoms, but the bacteria will remain in your body. This is known as "latent TB"
Our service provides care for those adults who are being investigated for, or receiving treatment for both active Tuberculosis and Latent Tuberculosis Infections.
More on what we do
Our team will manage and support patients with active, latent and Non-Tuberculous Mycobacterial infections.
We also offer:
- Contact tracing and screening for close contacts of both human and Bovine Infection
- Provision of BCG clinics to adults that are eligible for the vaccine
- Education and training
- Telephone advice for health professionals and the public
Before antibiotics were introduced, TB was a major health problem in the UK. Nowadays, the condition is much less common.
Devon is a low incidence area for Tuberculosis. However because of this diagnosis is often a challenge. It is common for patients to struggle with the diagnosis, the condition and the treatment. Sadly, some patients still experience stigma. We offer help and support to patients through all of this.
Tuberculosis is a notifiable infection and we therefore work closely with Public Health England.
With treatment, TB can usually be cured. Most people will need a course of antibiotics, usually for six months. However, some patients require a longer course of treatment.
Several different antibiotics are used. This is because some forms of TB are resistant to certain antibiotics. If you are infected with a drug-resistant form of TB, treatment with six or more different medications may be needed.
It is really important that this medication is taken as prescribed. Missing doses can increase the risk of drug resistant TB, which is much harder to treat.
Like any other medicine, TB drugs can sometimes cause side-effects. Blood tests are required before starting TB drugs and patients are monitored while on treatment.
Baseline eye tests are also arranged at the start of treatment because in very rare cases, one of the antibiotics can cause reversible visual disturbances. Eyes will continue to be monitored during treatment as part of standard care.
Directly Observed Therapy is necessary for some patients to make sure they are following the treatment.
The course of medication for Latent TB is generally for a shorter period of time (3 months) although some patients will need a six month course of treatment. Blood tests are also required before starting these drugs and patients are monitored while on treatment.
If you are in close contact with someone who has TB, tests may be carried out to see if you are also infected. These can include a chest X-ray, blood tests, and a skin test called the Mantoux test.
The service is jointly run by Tom Burden (Lead Consultant for TB) and George Trafford (Consultant in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology), with additional help from the respiratory consultants.
The respiratory nurses are fundamental to helping patients complete treatment. Our nurses also provide ongoing support.
Ruth Unsworth is our TB nurse specialist and has significant experience in managing the disease.
Where to find us
RD&E Wonford, Barrack Rd, Exeter EX2 5DW
Department of Respiratory Medicine, Q219
Clinics in Medical Outpatients (Level 1, Area D)
For patients/carers, call 07879 810457
Children and young people
The respiratory department work together with the paediatric department to deliver care to adolescents and young adults.
Clinics run on most Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Tuberculosis is best treated with a holistic approach, so you will see doctors or nurses.
There are many charitable organisations that support people affected by TB. The websites above can help, or ask your TB doctor or nurse
Information for healthcare professionals
A persistent, often slow growing infection, which causes excess morbidity and mortality in the UK.
Major limiting factor when diagnosing Tuberculosis (TB) is not thinking of TB as a possible cause. This is particular the case in low incidence areas.
Tuberculosis does not just affect high-risk populations; consider it in all. Refer all suspected cases urgently to respiratory medicine, please.
Please send sputum (or other tissue) for Acid Fast Bacilli (AFB) when considering TB. Sputum is not routinely tested for TB requesting AFBs enables prompt diagnosis.
Please think about Tuberculosis if patients have one or more:
- Persistent cough
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Chest pain