About Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs.


New TB infections in 2022


People missed by health systems in 2022


People who died from TB in 2022


Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease that most often affects the lungs. The WHO estimates that a quarter of the world population is infected with TB. While TB is latent in most people who never develop symptoms, the bacteria become active when the immune system is weakened, causing harmful symptoms and likely death. Common symptoms of active TB are coughing with blood, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats.


People with a weak or compromised immune system such as young children and elderly people, persons living with HIV, and the malnourished are at the highest risk of contracting tuberculosis. Over 95% of TB deaths occur in low and middle-income countries making it a disease of poverty.


Tuberculosis is transmitted through the air when people with active-TB cough, sneeze or spit. Only a few of these germs are needed to infect other people. The closer and more frequent the contact, the higher the chance of contracting the disease. People with active-TB can infect up to 15 other people per year.


The WHO has listed 30 countries with a “High TB-Burden” including Tanzania, Mozambique and Ethiopia where APOPO carries out operational research. In many countries, the conventional method of diagnosing tuberculosis is inadequate resulting in a poor rate of TB decline. Read more about global tuberculosis.


In most sub-Saharan African countries, just under half of patients with active tuberculosis are diagnosed due to the slow speeds of conventional diagnostic methods, underfunding of clinics and lack of trained staff. Left untreated a TB-positive patient can infect other people and will most likely die.


Poor health care and access to health facilities prevent or delay TB diagnosis among infected populations. In turn, the lack of fast and accurate diagnosis delays treatment and facilitates the disease progression and transmission to patients’ family and community. Around 3 million people who have difficulty accessing effective public health services, are left undiagnosed or missed every year and do not get TB treatment, leading to the death of up to two-thirds of patients with active tuberculosis.


Tuberculosis is a “disease of poverty” that often results in economical challenges for entire households. The breadwinner may have to stop work in order to convalesce and children may be too sick for school or taken out of education for caregiving or work. A cycle of debt and disrupted education can be created from which many households never recover, staying vulnerable to re-infection from tuberculosis.


APOPO carries out continued research into TB detection rats using samples from partner clinics. Rat-suspect samples are confirmed using WHO-endorsed methods and we notify the clinics of any newly identified positives. This means more TB-positive people, who were initially missed by their clinics, can receive life-saving treatment and stop the spread of tuberculosis to their family and friends.


Tuberculosis is a disease that is relatively easy to treat. Most patients can be cured through medication and they recover after a 4-6 month course of four antimicrobial drugs that are supplied with information, supervision and support by a health worker or trained volunteer. But if not treated properly or at an early stage, tuberculosis can have a devastating impact on a person’s health and likely lead to death as well as putting others at risk.


During her pregnancy with Ramadhani, Sharifa fell sick with an unknown illness that the clinics couldn’t diagnose. Read how APOPO identified her TB.