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A student can be a tuberculosis carrier if they have spent time in a region where the disease is prevalent or otherwhise been exposed to people infected with it. The Finnish Student Health Service provides tuberculosis screenings to higher education students based on self-reporting.

What is tuberculosis (TB)?

Tuberculosis, or TB, is a disease caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The disease usually affects the lungs, but can also manifest in other parts of the body. The tuberculosis bacterium is airborne, meaning it is transmitted through the air we breathe. Globally, tuberculosis continues to be very common: according to an estimate by the WHO, about one person in four worldwide has contracted tuberculosis. These people have a latent tuberculosis infection, which means that the bacteria are present but inactive (“asleep”) in their body. People with latent tuberculosis don’t have symptoms and can’t transmit the disease to others. However, the bacteria may later become active, resulting in active tuberculosis. Those with active tuberculosis can spread it to other people.

About one in every ten people infected with tuberculosis eventually develops active TB. The risk of developing active tuberculosis is highest for the first 2 years after a person becomes infected, but the disease can become active up to decades later. A weakened immune system increases the risk of developing active tuberculosis. Medications or other illnesses can also increase susceptibility to infection. Young unvaccinated children are also at high risk of developing a serious tuberculosis infection.

How common is tuberculosis in Finland?

In Finland, some 200 people develop active tuberculosis every year. About half of them have immigrated to the country from tuberculosis-heavy areas. Tuberculosis can be cured with medication which is usually taken for around 6 months. In Finland, examinations and treatment for tuberculosis are provided free of charge.

For more information about tuberculosis, visit https://tuberkuloosi.fi/en. The site contains information about the disease in ten languages.

What are tuberculosis symptoms like?

Tuberculosis symptoms can develop slowly over days and weeks. Typical symptoms include a cough lasting over three weeks and sputum production. Sputum is mucous coughed up from the lungs and can sometimes contain visible blood. Symptoms can also include fever, weight loss, night sweats, loss of appetite and generally feeling unwell. It is also possible to have almost no symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease. For those who are pregnant, TB symptoms can be minor and may resemble normal sensations occurring during a pregnancy.

Why are students screened for tuberculosis?

Students may have contracted tuberculosis in their former home country, while living abroad or due to a known exposure. Once tuberculosis has been contracted, it can become active. A student with the active disease can then unknowingly expose others to an infection for example during their free time, in practical training or at work. If the disease spreads, the consequences can be serious for those catching it. The purpose of the screening is to identify students with tuberculosis and, as soon as possible, start them on medication to cure the disease. This is done to protect the health of both the students themselves and other people.

According to the Finnish Communicable Diseases Act, employers are obliged to require a statement from their employees and trainees confirming that they do not have respiratory tuberculosis. The statement must be provided before the employee or trainee begins work or practical training in healthcare and social welfare or early childhood education and care.

In addition to legally required checks, tuberculosis health checks are also recommended for everyone moving to Finland from a risk area.

Tuberculosis screening for students in specified fields

Students in the fields of healthcare and social welfare or early childhood education and care must complete a FSHS transmittable diseases questionnaire. Students who are in a risk group based on their answers will then be referred for an FSHS health check and a chest x-ray. The questionnaire must be completed and, for those in a risk group, the check-up performed before any practical training begins. After the check-up, students will be provided with a statement, which they will present to their supervisor at their place of traineeship or employment. The statement is valid for 2 years. After that, a new check-up will be performed when the student or employee switches to a new workplace.

Students not in a risk group based on their answers to the transmittable diseases questionnaire will sign the self-assessment form they completed and present it to their supervisor at their place of traineeship or employment.

Tuberculosis screening for students in a risk group

The transmittable diseases questionnaire is also recommended for students in other fields moving to Finland from a risk area. For those in a risk group, a chest x-ray will be taken in line with FSHS’s requirements.

Am I in a tuberculosis risk group?


You’re in a risk group if

  • you were born or have lived in a region where tuberculosis is common. These include Africa, Asia, and Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia in Eastern Europe.
  • you’ve been in close contact with a person with pulmonary tuberculosis (TB of the lungs).
  • you’ve been involved in the care of patients with tuberculosis.
  • you’ve had tuberculosis yourself.

Is the radiation exposure from an x-ray examination dangerous?


No. The radiation exposure from a modern digital chest x-ray examination is minor, being equivalent to about 8 days of natural background radiation from the environment.