If you have an active tuberculosis (TB) infection, isolating can help prevent the spread of bacteria to others. Isolation lasts at least 2 weeks. A doctor will let you know when to end your isolation.

If you have TB, you might wonder whether you should quarantine to avoid transmitting TB to others.

This article explains when and why people with TB should isolate and how they can prevent the spread of the TB bacteria.

How TB spreads

TB is an airborne bacterial illness. It’s transmitted when someone with TB speaks, sneezes, or coughs. If someone else inhales the air that contains TB bacteria, they can contract the infection.

TB is not transmitted via skin contact, kissing, or sharing food or personal items with someone with TB.

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If you have suspected or confirmed infectious TB, you should isolate. Avoid close contact with others while seeking and undergoing treatment.

Some signs of infectious TB include:

The disease is latent in some people, meaning TB germs are present but aren’t causing symptoms. People with latent TB are not contagious and do not need to isolate. They can continue their regular activities.

People with contagious TB who aren’t sick enough to stay in the hospital can isolate at home. Standard home isolation precautions for people with TB include:

  • Stay home: You can prevent transmitting the bacteria by avoiding public places and public transportation. While at home, avoid having visitors.
  • Avoid family members: If you live with others, keep your distance from them. This includes sleeping in a separate space. Stay away from common areas, like the bathroom or the kitchen.
  • Follow your treatment plan: Taking your medication as prescribed is essential. Eating well, drinking plenty of fluids, and getting enough rest is also beneficial.
  • Cover your mouth and nose: Wear an N95 mask during contact with healthcare professionals. If you have to cough or sneeze when you are not wearing a mask, cover your face with a tissue and throw the tissue in the trash afterward.
  • Air out your living area: Use a fan and open the windows to allow air to circulate.
  • Reschedule other activities: Cancel all nonmedical appointments until after your quarantine.

Airborne precautions are guidelines to prevent the spread of TB in healthcare settings. If you are at a hospital receiving treatment for TB, your team might instruct you to:

  • Come and go from the hospital using a separate entrance.
  • Wear an N95 respirator mask positioned to cover your nose and face.
  • Change your mask regularly, particularly if it becomes wet from speaking, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue and throw it away afterward.
  • Wash your hands if you touch your mouth or nose.
  • Avoid close contact with other people being treated at the hospital.
  • Stay in an airborne infection isolation room.

Healthcare workers might take extra precautions when treating you. This may include wearing:

  • masks
  • goggles or face shields
  • gloves
  • gowns

In addition to avoiding contact with you, your family members should undergo testing for TB. It’s possible to have TB without symptoms.

If a family member tests positive on a TB skin test but does not have symptoms, they can get treatment to prevent latent TB from developing into an active infection.

If they do not have the disease, they can continue their daily activities while you quarantine at home.

If you have TB, you might want to know more about the following.

Can someone with TB live with their family?

If you have TB, you can still live with your family, provided you do not have children under 5 years old and none of your family members have a weakened immune system. However, you should avoid close contact and sleep alone.

What PPE is required for people with TB?

Personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks, can help protect others against infection. People with TB should wear an N95 mask when they come into contact with healthcare workers.

When can I safely discontinue TB isolation?

You might need to isolate for 2 weeks or longer while you wait for your medication to work. Your doctor will test your sputum regularly to determine whether you’re still contagious. A negative sputum test means you can no longer spread TB and can safely stop isolating.

Still, even if you’re no longer contagious, you should continue to take your medications as prescribed. Completing the entire course of treatment is vital.

If you have an active TB infection, a doctor will ask you to isolate while you undergo treatment. They’ll let you know whether it’s safe to self-quarantine at home. This will depend on your illness and whether you have young children or other immunocompromised family members.

Isolating means that you avoid contact with others. During this period, you won’t be able to leave the house to go to work, school, or other activities.

Your doctor will use a sputum test to determine whether you are still contagious. You can stop isolating when the test shows you no longer have an active infection.