TB hee-bee-gee-bees: Tuberculosis causes and concerns
Originally Published: July 12, 2002 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: November 7, 2008
My boyfriend just got a positive TB test. I wonder if his dog could be the cause of this. He lives alone in his apartment, so the cleanliness is often worrying. And does this mean we cannot do intimate stuff, i.e., kissing anymore? Does walking in the park and frequently breathing in morning air help at all?
Thank you, Alice...
Your boyfriend most likely tested positive on the tuberculin skin test, which means that he was exposed to tuberculosis (TB) germs. This does not mean that he has TB disease, a bacterial infection of the lungs that can be fatal; his primary care provider would have performed further tests to verify his TB disease status. Symptoms of TB disease include a persistent cough, fever, weight loss, night sweats, lethargy, and a loss of appetite. People with advanced TB disease may also cough up bloody mucus.
Most likely, your boyfriend's immune system has the TB germs under control, and his provider will prescribe an antibiotic medication for about six months, which kills latent germs. These latent germs have been surrounded and rendered inactive by his body's immune system, but could become active and cause damage later if not treated properly. Most people can take the recommended antibiotics without experiencing major side effects, but they need to inform their health care professional if the following symptoms appear:
- yellowish skin
- loss of appetite
- stomach cramps
- unexplained fever
- dark urine
- vomiting or nausea
- changes in eyesight
- unexplained fatigue
It's important to keep up the daily regimen and complete the entire six-month treatment; this may be hard to do, but TB germs could survive in the body and pose a threat for later developing TB disease.
Those with latent TB infection, which sounds like the case with your boyfriend, have no symptoms, do not feel sick, cannot spread TB to others, but could develop TB disease later in life if they're not treated. Since those with latent TB infections cannot transmit TB, there is no harm in kissing your boyfriend. For more information on what TB is, and the difference between latent infection and TB disease, see Positive TB test in Alice's General Health archive. It might make you feel more comfortable to go get a TB skin test yourself. It is possible that you were exposed to the same original source of TB germs as your boyfriend.
Here are some general and informative sites on tuberculosis:
As for your boyfriend's dog, don't turn out your furry friend just yet. Although some animals (e.g., elephants, birds, etc.) could transmit tuberculosis across species, there are no documented cases of humans getting the disease from a dog, making it a highly unlikely possibility. Nor is your boyfriend's dirty apartment the cause of this infection. It might be worthwhile, however, to stress clean housekeeping's role in promoting good health and relationships. But that's another issue altogether.