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Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious infectious disease that can be fatal. It most commonly affects the lungs. A person affected with active TB can transmit the disease to another person when coughing or sneezing for example.

The vaccine available – BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin) – doesn’t effectively prevent the disease but treatments exist. It consists of a combination of drugs, to take for 6 to 24 months.  

Overall situation in Europe

In the European Union, TB rates are among the lowest in the world and the number of new TB cases is slowly decreasing by around 5% each year. The situation varies from one country to the other. In countries with few cases (‘low incidence countries’), TB tends to concentrate among vulnerable groups (such as homeless people). In other countries with persistent high rates of TB (‘high prevalence countries’), TB affects the population more widely.

Common challenges

  • Identifying all TB cases at an earlier stage
    Various reasons explain why TB diagnosis is sometimes delayed or never done, for example: healthcare professionals don’t necessarily think about TB as potential infection, vulnerable groups affected by TB are not reached by standard healthcare programmes, co-infection with HIV infection makes TB more difficult to identify.


  • Ensuring patients complete their treatment
    TB patients that are unable or reluctant to take medication for several months do not adhere to their treatment. This is problematic as treatment completion is essential to cure patients, to reduce transmission and to prevent the development of drug resistance.


  • Preventing multidrug-resistant (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) TB
    Variants of TB that are resistant to antibiotics are more difficult and more expensive to treat. Their spread is a major threat to public health. To prevent disease transmission and development of resistant strains, it is crucial to make sure that TB patients adhere to their prescribed treatment.
© European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) 2005 - 2017