Here’s what you need to know about TB in South Africa

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. If not treated properly, TB can be deadly. Here’s what you need to know about TB in South Africa.

Who can get TB?

People from all backgrounds, despite race, age, nationality, background, and gender can get TB. However, people living with HIV, babies, the elderly and pregnant women are more at risk of being infected with TB because their bodies’ defenses are not as strong. People living with HIV are more likely to develop severe forms of TB because of their weakened immune system.

A deadly illness

TB continues to be the leading cause of death in South Africa. In 2019, 36 000 people living with HIV died of TB. One of the biggest issues with TB in South Africa is that people don’t get diagnosed fast enough, and they don’t get put on treatment in time due to the long waiting lists at most government clinics.

Stigma within communities also plays a big role in people not wanting to get tested or take their treatment. People are reluctant (not willing) to stick to their treatment course and often stop treatment once they feel better.

Not taking treatment as advised by your health practitioner, puts you at risk of developing drug resistance (a strain of the disease that’s unaffected by medicine). This is also means that you put others around you at risk of getting infected with the disease, too.

Remember, just because you’re starting to feel better doesn’t mean you’re cured or that the TB bacteria is no longer present. Rather, it means that the treatment is working, and that you’re one step closer to being cured.

Types of TB in South Africa

There are two common types of TB – Active and Latent.

Active TB is a type of TB bacteria that multiplies quickly, and invades the different organs of the body. The typical symptoms of active TB include coughing, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever, chills and sweating at night. A person with active TB can spread TB to others.

Latent TB doesn’t make you feel sick and doesn’t really have any common symptoms. The only sign of latent TB is a positive reaction to a skin test or TB blood test. People who have it are not infectious and cannot spread TB to others. It’s estimated that about 80% of South Africa’s population is infected with TB bacteria, a majority of whom have latent TB rather than the active form of the disease.

We all can play a part in reducing the spread of TB by practicing good hygiene, and covering our mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing. If you suspect that you have TB, you can go to your nearest clinic to get tested.

TB vaccination is offered to all children at birth and HIV positive patients are given TPT (TB preventative therapy), which is usually taken for different durations of time. If you’re HIV positive, it’s essential that you take your treatment as advised by your healthcare provider, live a healthy lifestyle and attend all your health appointments to ensure that you’re safe from TB and can get the necessary treatment if you do become infected.

Remember if you or a friend need advice or help, you can contact me here on Ask Choma, send me a Facebook Messagea Twitter DM, or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657).