TB hee-bee-gee-bees: Tuberculosis causes and concerns

Originally Published: July 12, 2002 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: October 10, 2013
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Dear Alice...

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...

Dear Reader,

So you can’t blame this one on the dog, but more on that later. 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 active TB disease, a bacterial infection of the lungs that can be fatal. His primary care provider would have performed further tests to determine if he has an active tuberculosis infection. 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 may prescribe an antibiotic medication for about six months, which kills latent germs. These latent germs have been rendered inactive by his body's immune system, but could later become active and cause illness and damage 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 active TB disease.

Those with latent TB infection, as may be the case with your boyfriend, have no symptoms, do not feel sick, cannot spread TB to others, but could develop active 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:

New York City Bureau of Tuberculosis (TB) Control web page

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Tuberculosis Elimination FAQs web page about TB

World Health Organization's (WHO) Tuberculosis web page

As for your boyfriend's dog, don't turn out your furry friend just yet. Although many animal species (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.

You can take a deep breath, know that the dog is fine, and encourage you boyfriend to follow the instructions of his health care provider. Though this likely isn’t a serious illness situation, good for you to stay on top of things.

Take care,

Alice