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What is TB?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by a bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb), and is found worldwide. In 2013 9 million people developed TB and 1.5 million died, which makes TB second only to HIV as the greatest global infectious killer.

Around one-third of the world’s population is latently infected with M.tb, which means they have been infected but do not yet have active TB disease. Latently infected people have a 10% chance of developing active TB during their lifetime, and therefore becoming ill. This risk increases if they are also infected with HIV.

Data source: Global Tuberculosis Report 2014. WHO, 2014Data source: Global Tuberculosis Report 2014. WHO, 2014

Where is TB found?

TB occurs in every part of the world, including the UK where TB used to kill 1 in 4 people in Victorian times. Fortunately now only around 9,000 people develop TB each year in the UK, although this number is increasing. The highest rates today are in sub-Saharan Africa, in countries such as South Africa.

How is TB spread?

TB is spread by inhaling bacteria that have been coughed, sneezed or spat into the air.

What are the symptoms of TB?

TB usually affects the lungs causing symptoms such as coughing, fever, tiredness and weight loss, but it can also affect other parts of the body such as the spine and brain (see NHS symptoms page). Eventually TB leads to death.

Is TB curable?

TB is curable but drug-resistant strains of the bacteria are increasing. Treatment takes six months, is very costly, and can have unpleasant side effects, so developing a vaccine that could prevent TB infection is an important global public health goal. Treatment of drug resistant strains of M.tb can take up to two years. 

Vaccines against TB

The current TB vaccine is called BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin). BCG has been administered globally to several billion people, but it is over 90 years old and does not protect well against pulmonary (lung) TB. Pulmonary TB has the highest mortality and morbidity rates, so an improved vaccine is essential.

At the Jenner Institute we are developing new vaccines against TB that will boost BCG to give more effective protection against TB. By working with collaborators in Europe, America and across Africa, we hope to develop an improved vaccine against this deadly disease.

Further Information

Stop TB:

‘Exposed: The Race Against TB’ – informative and interesting short films:

Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) information and videos:

World Health Organisation – TB situation infographic: