As COVID-19 dominates the headlines, let’s not take our eyes off tuberculosis (TB) which resulted in the death of 1.6 million people globally in 2018. Closer to home, according to WHO (World Health Organisation), South Africa has the highest incidence of TB after India and China. Approximately 1% of our population develops active TB disease each year and it remains the leading cause of natural death in South Africa.

What is TB?
TB is caused by bacteria which usually attacks the lungs, but can also attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick however as two TB-related conditions exist: latent TB infection and active TB disease.

What is the difference between Latent TB and Active TB?
TB awareness

What are the symptoms of TB?
Healthcare media platform WebMD describes the symptoms as:

  • A bad cough which lasts 3 weeks or longer
  • Pain in the chest
  • Coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lungs).

Other symptoms can include:

  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Sweating at night

Symptoms of TB disease in other parts of the body depend on the area affected.

How is TB spread?
TB is spread through the air, the same as a cold or the flu. When someone with TB coughs, sneezes, laughs, or even sings, tiny droplets that contain the bacteria are released. If you breathe in these germs, you can get infected.

How is TB treated?
The CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) distinguishes between Latent TB and Active TB.

Latent TB.
If you become infected with TB but do not have active TB disease, you should get preventative therapy which kills the germs. Generally, this will involve a daily dose of a specific antibiotic for 6 to 9 months.

Active TB.
If you have an active TB disease you will be treated with a combination of medications for 6 to 12 months. You may only start to feel better after a few weeks. It is very important that you continue to take your medication as prescribed without fail.

How can you prevent the spread of TB?
Latent TB is not contagious but Active TB is very contagious. The Mayo Clinic offers some precautions to take until your GP can confirm that you are no longer contagious:

  • Take all of your medications as and when prescribed.
  • Keep your doctor and clinic appointments.
  • Always cover your mouth with a tissue or similar item when coughing or sneezing. Seal the tissue in a bag and dispense of it.
  • Wash your hands after coughing or sneezing.
  • Do not visit others or have them visit you.
  • Do not go to work, school, or other public places.
  • Use a fan or open windows to circulate fresh air.
  • Do not use public transportation.

Mayo Clinic also recommends the wearing of a surgical mask when around others until advised otherwise by a medical professional.

Tuberculosis is a widespread and life threatening disease but early detection, treatment and taking precautions can save others and improve your chances of recovery. Should you experience the symptoms described, please visit your GP or clinic. You can access free TB treatment at government clinics.



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