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J Infect Dis. 2015 May 1;211(9):1367-72. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiu625. Epub 2014 Nov 11.

Cough and the transmission of tuberculosis.

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Department of Respiratory Medicine, Homerton University Hospital NHS Trust, London, United Kingdom.


Cough is a predominant feature of respiratory infection and, in tuberculosis, is of prime importance for transmitting infection. Tuberculosis is transmitted by the air, yet the process by which bacilli are aerosolized has received little attention. Features of cough may account for differences in transmission rates from source cases of pulmonary disease. We review the literature on the mechanisms and characteristics of cough in tuberculosis in the context of the dissemination of infection. Coughing is probably more important than other respiratory maneuvers, and characteristics of mucus may have an important role but data are scarce. Direct mechanisms of cough in tuberculosis are unknown, as are temporal and other patterns that correlate with the release of viable airborne bacilli. Other than antituberculous chemotherapy and masks, there are few methods of modulating cough in tuberculosis. This is an increasingly important area for research.


airborne transmission; cough; infectiousness; tuberculosis

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