Did you know that Tubercolosis (TB) is one of the top causes of death in South? Anyone can get this disease, which is why it’s important to know and share the facts about TB so that you can protect yourself and get treatment if necessary. Here are some common questions around TB.

What are the symptoms of TB?

Coughing for more than two weeks, having a lot of chest mucus, sometimes blood and chest pains, fatigue (extreme tiredness), unexplained weight loss, excessive sweating at night as well as a fever, are all signs that you may have TB. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms it’s imperative that you see a healthcare provider as soon as possible. Remember, when symptoms are left untreated, they’ll worsen and become far more difficult to treat.

Is TB preventable?

TB can be prevented by following good hygiene practices like washing your hands regularly and covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough. If you think you may have been exposed, it’s advised that you avoid contact with others and get tested for TB as soon as you can.

How is the test done?

For adults, testing is done by taking two samples of phlegm/mucus. These are sent to a lab and the results are normally available after a few days. In children, testing is done using a skin test, which involves injecting a chemical called Tuberculin Purified Protein Derivative (PPD) into the inner part of the forearm. Results from the skin test are usually available in 72 hours. These tests are done by a healthcare professional and are available at any local clinic.

How long must I be on treatment?

If you’re diagnosed with TB, you’ll be given tablets (antibodies), which you’ll be required to take daily (usually for about 6 months). It’s important to continue taking your medication until it’s complete, even if you start feeling better. If you take your treatment as directed by your healthcare provider, you can be completely cured from TB. You’ll be advised to avoid smoking, drinking alcohol and taking any other type of drug while you’re on treatment.

Does the treatment have side effects?

Side effects from the treatment may differ from person to person, but some of the common ones include nausea, cramps, a tingling feeling in your feet, stinging pains, skin rash or changes in urine colour. If you’ve been experiencing any strange or unbearable side effects, then it’s a good idea to speak to a healthcare professional.

How can I protect myself from TB?

If someone at home, school or work has TB then it’s imperative for them to get treatment immediately (if they haven’t already). While they’re on treatment, protect everyone in the home from getting it by opening windows and doors to let in fresh air, and where possible, have your family member with TB sleep in their own room (which should also have fresh air coming in).

Encourage your family member to practice good hygiene and to cover their mouth and nose with tissue when coughing or sneezing. This should be thrown away immediately and followed by frequent handwashing.

What should I do if I miss a dose of my TB medication?

If you miss a dose of medication, you’ll have to skip the tablet for that specific day and continue taking your medication according to your schedule from the next day onwards. Don’t take two doses at the same time. If you miss more than one dose, then you’ll need to see your healthcare provider as soon as you can.

Does TB medication affect my birth-control pills?

Some Anti-TB drugs can reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives, so be sure to speak to your healthcare provider if you’re on any hormonal contraceptive or planning to go on one. They may suggest a different pill or a non-hormonal contraceptive, which won’t be affected by any medication. As always, remember to use a condom with any type of contraceptive method for protection against STI/HIV infection.

What is drug-resistant TB?

Drug-resistant TB is a form of tuberculosis (TB) caused by bacteria that doesn’t respond to treatment. It can occur when the drugs used to treat TB are not taken as prescribed by your doctor, causing the TB bacteria to become stronger than the medication and resistant to treatment. This means that you’ll need to start a new process of treatment to kill the bacteria because the old treatment won’t work anymore.

While Tuberculosis is a serious illness that affects many people, it can be prevented and cured. Stay in the know about the facts, raise awareness about the illness and encourage those diagnosed to stick to their treatment. If you have any other questions about TB, you can always reach out to me.

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