Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that affects approximately one third of the world's population, although most of those infected with the bacterium will never develop the disease. Statistics indicate that approximately 10% of all individuals exposed to the bacterium (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) will develop active tuberculosis.
Approximately 70% of all active cases of tuberculosis are pulmonary tuberculosis (in the lungs). However, tuberculosis may spread beyond the lungs to the circulatory system, joints, bones, and even the genitourinary system.
Symptoms of tuberculosis may include coughing, fever, night sweats, chills, fatigue, and weight loss. Active tuberculosis is usually treated with a cocktail of antibiotics, and the treatment for tuberculosis lasts much longer than most bacterial infections. In fact, an individual with tuberculosis will usually have to be treated for six months to a year before the body rids itself completely of the disease.
Tuberculosis can often be cured within a number of months, and when it is, the individual with tuberculosis can't qualify for disability benefits, because Social Security requires that a disabling illness last at least one year. But if your tuberculosis has made you unable to work for a year, or your doctor expects that it will, you may be able to get disability benefits.
Social Security no longer has an official disability listing for mycobacterial infections like tuberculosis; instead, lung infections are evaluated under Social Security's disability listing for chronic respiratory disorders. To see if your breathing is severely obstructed or restricted, Social Security will send you for a breathing test to measure your forced expiratory volume (how much air you can breathe out of your lungs) as well as other lung function values. If your test results are poor enough to meet Social Security's disability listing, your tuberculosis claim will be approved. For information on the listing requirements, see our article on chronic respiratory disorders.
If your tuberculosis has spread to other areas of the body, such as the skin, kidneys, bones, or urinary system, and has caused damage, Social Security could evaluate you under the disability listings for those organs and body systems. For more information, see our full list of medical conditions eligible for disability benefits.