Tuberculosis (TB)

TB is a treatable infectious disease caused by a bacterium known as mycobacterium tuberculosis.

In New Zealand there are approximately 300 cases of TB diagnosed each year. Life-threatening complications such as bleeding from the lungs are rare, but TB can still be a very serious disease, particularly for young children under five years of age as well as older people.

TB can stay sleeping (latent) in someone’s body for many years before it activates. Even though you feel well and healthy, the doctor may still advise treatment to make sure you do not develop active TB.

If you are concerned about TB see your doctor or practice nurse.

The BCG vaccine helps protect against the worst forms of TB and is funded for some children aged under 5 years old. Check if your child is eligible to receive the BCG vaccine.

TB is spread through coughing, sneezing or spitting. The bacteria are carried into the air and people nearby can breathe them in. The germs can stay in the air for several hours, especially in enclosed spaces. However, TB is not easy to catch. You need to live or work closely with an infected person to catch the disease.

People with tuberculosis don’t always show symptoms. If you’re healthy, your body can usually stop the TB bacteria from growing.

Symptoms of TB can be similar to other illnesses. The most common symptoms are:

  • a cough lasting three weeks or more, often with thick phlegm
  • tiredness
  • night sweats
  • weight loss
  • swollen glands, usually in your neck.

Coughing up blood is a widely known symptom of TB, but if this occurs, it will happen a long time after someone is infected.

If you have spent time with someone recently diagnosed with TB disease, you may need to be tested. Testing does depend on how infectious the person with TB is and how much contact they have had with others during the time they have been infectious. Any testing required will take place as part of the public health service’s follow-up of the TB case and his/her contacts.

If you are concerned about having symptoms of TB you should see your GP. If you think you have had contact with a TB case and are concerned that you may not have been followed up, see your GP and ask him/her to contact National Public Health Service (NPHS) - Northern Region. 

TB is treated with a combination of antibiotics. It’s very important to finish the treatment or the disease will get worse again.

NPHS - Northern Region has a key role in TB control in the Northern region. This includes:

  • supervision of treatment of people with TB in the community. In some cases directly observed therapy (DOT) is used, where a nurse directly observes the person taking their TB medicines. Such close treatment supervision helps reduce the risk of treatment failure or development of drug resistance
  • investigation and follow-up of TB contacts (anyone who has been closely exposed to someone with infectious TB in their lungs or throat before that person was treated)
  • education and advice for people with TB, TB contacts, family members and the wider community
  • BCG vaccination of babies and children under five years of age who are at high risk of exposure to TB and who meet the Ministry of Health’s BCG eligibility criteria.

TB is a notifiable disease, which means that health professionals or laboratories will inform us when someone has it.


There are specific requirements for notifiable diseases in the Auckland region.

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Last updated 23.6.2023

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