When looking at the highly infectious disease, Tuberculosis (TB), the World Health Organisation (WHO) explains, “TB is the ninth leading cause of death worldwide and the leading cause from a single infectious agent, ranking above HIV/AIDS.”
Moreover, at a local level, the global health organisation notes TB incidence and case-fatality rates have increased threefold in South Africa over the ensuing decade, with more than 400 000 cases requiring treatment annually. Therefore, it is essential to understand what TB is, thereby minimising your chances of infection.
What is TB?
TB is a chronic contagious disease caused by bacteria, usually attacking the lungs (pulmonary TB). When this happens, the bacteria can destroy parts of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
However, it is essential to know that the bacteria can spread to and damage other parts of the body, such as the digestive and urogenital tracts, bones, joints, nervous system, lymph nodes, and even one’s skin. This is called extrapulmonary TB, although this variation occurs less than the pulmonary variant.
Who is at risk?
People of all ages, nationalities and socio-economic groups are at risk. If left untreated, a TB patient will most likely infect between 10 to 15 people each year. This is concerning, especially as one study highlighted which provinces faced the highest TB burden in SA. According to the study by TBFacts.org, KwaZulu-Natal comes in second place, beaten only by Gauteng.
What are the symptoms of TB?
Symptoms include the following:
- A cough that starts out dry and becomes worse and later produces sputum (thick liquid from deep inside the lungs) or blood.
- Coughing for longer than a month.
- Chest pain and wheezing.
- Difficulty in breathing, for example, shortness of breath.
- Weakness or fatigue.
- Loss of weight and appetite.
- Joint pain.
- Excessive sweating.
- Hearing loss.
It is paramount to add, specific individuals may have mild to no symptoms—meaning there is a greater risk of the disease being spread due to the patient not knowing they are infected.
How is TB spread?
TB bacteria are spread through the air from one person to another. The bacteria are put into the air after an infected person coughs, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is crucial to understand, TB cannot be spread by shaking someone’s hand, sharing food or drink, touching bed linens or toilet seats and sharing toothbrushes.
Is there a treatment for the disease?
TB is both a treatable and curable disease. WHO explains that active, drug-susceptible TB disease is treated with a standard 6-month course of 4 antimicrobial drugs provided with information, supervision, and support to the patient by a health worker or trained volunteer.
As this viral disease can prove fatal if left untreated, be sure to visit your local GP if you suspect you have TB.