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Tuberculosis and HIV
Mar 12, 1997

Hi I recently read an information packet at my local hospital while getting a skin test for tuberculosis that infection with tuberculosis is often a sign of HIV infection. Having gone back to get the skin test read, I was told that I got a positive result for tuberculosis. Now, as a result, I have the following concerns: FIRST, what exactly is the relationship between being exposed/infected with tuberculosis and being exposed/infected with HIV? SECOND, the last time that I did anything which all the stuff which I read tells me puts me at any risk for HIV was about four months ago... It was a low risk incident and I had a PCR test a 5 weeks and a standard antibody test at 11 weeks, both of which came out negative... my doctor tells me that the two negative results tell her that I have nothing to worry about (regarding HIV) but I'm wondering if I should go back for the 6 month test... THIRD, does my positive result for tuberculosis (which is curable) indicate that I have been infected with the HIV (which is not)?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. People who have HIV are at much greater risk of contracting Tuberculosis (TB). However not all people with TB have HIV. Anybody can get TB, regardless of whether they have HIV or not. However, if a person has HIV and a weakened immune system, they are much more likely to get active TB, and get complications related to TB.

TB is transmitted by close, prolonged contact with a person in the infectious phase of the disease. TB is an airborne disease. It's important to remember that a person can have TB, but not be in the infectious stage. When a person has active TB in the lungs, they are infectious to others, until they are treated for this infection.

Because of the close relationship between TB and HIV, we routinely test people for HIV who have been diagnosed with TB. However, I must strongly emphasize that a person can have TB without having HIV. In persons who have HIV and TB, that is considered a diagnosis of full-blown AIDS. When active TB is seen in persons with HIV, it is most often seen when the immune system becomes damaged, which is usually years after HIV infection. If you have TB, but test negative for HIV, this indicates that the TB infection is not related to HIV/AIDS, but it's still important that you get treated for TB. It's critically important that you take your TB medications exactly as prescribed! If you don't, you may develop a drug resistant strain of TB, which is increasingly becoming a major concern.

A negative PCR test at 5 weeks and a negative antibody test at 11 weeks is certainly a good sign that you may not be infected. However, since PCR tests are not perfect, and antibody tests can take up to 6 months to show positive, I still recommend that you get an HIV antibody test again at 6 months. However, based on your negative results for HIV thus far, it indicates that your TB infection is not related to HIV/AIDS. However, it's still important that you get treated for TB.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).



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