Causative Agent

Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes a rapidly fatal pneumonia in most Old World primate species, and chronic pneumonia in humans. Typically, infected humans present a much greater risk to the animals than animals do to humans. It would be unusual for the disease to be transmitted to humans, unless the animal is undergoing surgery or pathologic examination. Infected tissue samples can also present a risk to laboratory workers. Prevention of disease includes routine use of respiratory protection and protective clothing when working with tissues or when coming into close proximity to animals. Animals and human handlers are screened every 6 months for disease. Animals are also quarantined and screened on entry into the facility.

Routes of Infection

Tuberculosis (TB) is spread through the air from one person to another. The bacteria are put into the air when a person with active TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs or sneezes. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected. However, not everyone exposed to the bacteria become sick- they may come to have a latent TB infection.


In rare instances, individuals may become infected with TB if they are working with non-human primates. It is a risk to the non-human primates to be handled by individuals with TB infections.


People with active TB disease can be treated and cured if they seek medical help. People with latent TB infection (e.g., positive skin test and negative chest X-ray) can take medicine so that they will not develop active TB disease.