A group of young travelling friends at a train station.

This bacterial disease is uncommon in Australian-born people but may pose a risk to travellers going to certain areas in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. A tuberculosis vaccine is available for those at higher risk of the disease.

Did you know?

  • Most people who have tuberculosis do not show any symptoms.
  • About 10% of infected people will develop an active form of the disease at some point in their lifetime and show symptoms.1
  • Globally, nearly 9 million new tuberculosis cases and nearly 1.5 million tuberculosis-related deaths occur each year.2
A middle aged woman sitting on a deck at sunset.

What is it?

Tuberculosis, commonly called TB, is an infection that usually affects the lungs and is caused by a type of bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Most infected people don't get any symptoms, however they still require treatment as tuberculosis can reactivate years later.

What are the symptoms?

Tuberculosis can affect any part of the body but usually affects the lungs in most cases.

Symptoms can include a cough, fever, sweats, tiredness, weight loss and coughing up blood.

In most cases, tuberculosis has no symptoms, however there is a 10% lifetime risk of the infection developing into an active form of the disease.1 This risk increases in those with a weakened immune system. The disease also progresses quickly in infants and the elderly.

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following tuberculosis infection. If you feel unwell while travelling or when you return home, make sure you see a doctor as soon as possible.

How is it spread?

Tuberculosis is spread from person to person through air droplets. When a person infected with an active form of the disease coughs, sneezes or speaks, the bacteria is spread through the air and those nearby can breathe in the bacteria. The bacteria can settle in the lungs and begin to grow. From there the infection can move through the blood to other parts of the body, such as the kidney, spine and brain.

The chances of the disease spreading increase when a person spends a relatively long time in a closed environment with someone who has tuberculosis.

Who is at risk?

The risk of tuberculosis infection is low for most travellers. Risk is greatest when travelling to areas with a high number of tuberculosis cases including parts of Africa, Asia, as well as parts of Central and South America.

The risk of infection in children travelling to areas with high numbers of tuberculosis cases depends on age, length of stay and how common tuberculosis is at the destination.

Other people may be at risk of tuberculosis infection. Please speak to your doctor regarding your individual circumstances.

Who should be vaccinated?

  • While the tuberculosis vaccine is not routinely recommended, it may be recommended if you are considered at higher risk. Please check with your doctor regarding your individual circumstances. 

    To help avoid becoming infected with tuberculosis, travellers should try to avoid crowded environments and close contact or extended periods of time with people who have tuberculosis. Eating or drinking any unpasteurised dairy products while travelling should also be avoided as bovine (cow) tuberculosis can be transmitted through these products.

Treatment

Tuberculosis is treated with a combination of antibiotics. Travellers who think they may have been exposed to tuberculosis should see their doctor as soon as possible for a medical assessment. 

Important information

It is important to plan ahead and see your doctor at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel to discuss immunisation and travel health. 

Some side effects may be experienced following immunisation. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your healthcare professional.

References

  1. Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition (2018 update). Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health. https://immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au/vaccine-preventable-diseases/tuberculosis
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tuberculosis. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/tuberculosis (accessed September 2018)

AUS/VAC/0094/18 Date of Approval November 2018