Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) which affects the lungs. TB is spread from person to person through close contact. When people with lung TB cough, sneeze or spit, the TB bacteria can spread through the air and those who inhale it can become infected.

Key facts

The World Health Organisation (WHO) state the following key facts about TBI:

  • TB is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide.
  • South Africa is one of eight countries which account for two thirds of new TB cases.
  • In 2017, 10 million people contracted TB of which 1.6 million died from the disease, including 0.3 million people with HIV.
  • TB is the leading cause of death of HIV-positive people.
  • Multidrug-resistant TB is a problem – the WHO (World Health Organisation) estimates that 558 000 new cases show resistance to Rifampicin (the most effective first-line drug).
  • Global incidences of TB is decreasing by 2% per year. To achieve the 2020 milestones of the End TB Strategy, the annual decline rate needs to be between 4-5%.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) discusses the following risks associated with TB:

  • About 25% of the world’s population has latent TB, which means that these people have been infected by the TB bacteria but are not yet ill and, at this stage, cannot transmit the disease.
  • Healthy people infected with TB have a 5-15% lifetime risk of developing the disease. However, people with compromised immune systems (e.g. due to living with HIV, malnutrition, diabetes or smoking) have a significantly higher chance of falling ill.
  • When active TB is developed, the symptoms are often not felt for months, which leads to a delay in treatment and the spread of bacteria to others.
  • On average people with active TB can infect 10-15 others.
  • All age groups are at risk but TB mostly affects adults in their productive years.

Symptoms and treatment

Common symptoms of TB include:

  • Sputum with blood
  • Chest pains
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats

If you have these systems and believe you have the disease, visit a clinic or hospital where TB testing can be done. TB can be diagnosed from sputum (spit), an xray or skin test.

Treatment typically takes place over 6 months and is supported with relevant information and supervision by a health worker. Adherence to the treatment provided is vital for recovery and to prevent further spreading of the disease.

An estimated 54 million lives have been saved worldwide through TB diagnosis and treatment between 2000 and 2017.

Despite progress, TB continues to kill thousands of South Africans and the Department of Health encourages people to:

  • Be aware of the symptoms
  • Visit clinics for testing and screening
  • If diagnosed with TB, remember to take your medication daily and not skip or stop treatment, even if you are feeling better.

The good news is that TB is treatable and curable!


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