Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the world’s most deadly diseases, causing thousands of deaths every year across the globe. Worldwide, TB is the second greatest killer due to a single infectious agent – second only to HIV/AIDS. 1
TB is particularly common in South Africa, and despite being treatable, it is still a major cause of death in our country and beyond.
In this edusheet, we’ll explore what TB is, its causes, risk factors, symptoms, testing and treatment.
TB is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium called the TB bacillus.1 The disease is spread through the air, usually when an infected person coughs or sneezes.2 While TB usually affects the lungs, it can also infect other parts of the body, including the brain, kidneys and spine.3
This kind of infection is easily transmitted in areas with poor ventilation (not enough fresh air), such as family homes, shared housing, workplaces and bars.2 In these types of environments, TB germs can stay in the air for many hours, infecting people who breathe the same air.3
A persistent cough
Coughing up phlegm and other mucous
Coughing up blood
There are various types of tests that can detect TB infection: skin tests and blood tests.
To perform the skin test, a small amount of fluid called tuberculin is injected into the skin of your lower arm. You will then have to return to the doctor or nurse within 48-72 hours, so they can assess the reaction of your skin to determine whether you have been infected.3
Blood tests can be more accurate, but take a bit longer, as the blood needs to be sent to a lab for testing. Blood tests measure your immune system’s reaction to the germs that cause TB.3
Sputum (spit / mucous) testing is another method often used in South Africa, and results are usually available after two or three days.4
Both testing and treatment is free at government clinics across the country.
TB is treated with TB medication, which has to be taken for 6-8 months. It is important to note that TB can only be cured if you complete the full treatment cycle – even if you start to feel better, you must continue with the treatment until your nurse or doctor tells you that you can stop. If you don’t complete your treatment course, you may develop an even more serious version of TB, which can result in serious health issues and even death.4
To give yourself the best chance at a healthy recovery, you should exercise, eat healthy food wherever possible, stop smoking and avoid drinking alcohol.4
If you have TB, you should do everything you can to protect those around you.
Ensuring that there is good ventilation in your home and any space you may spend time in
Taking your TB medication as directed by your healthcare practitioner
Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
Wearing a mask or a scarf around your mouth and nose when you leave your home
Washing your hands often