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TB Health Blog Banner 9 March

What are the signs of TB, and how can you get treatment? 

Tuberculosis (or TB), a bacterial infection, is a dread disease that mainly affects the lungs, but it can occur in other body organs from the brain to the spine. 

Despite advances in treatments, TB remains a leading cause of death. Globally in 2020, the World Health Organisation reports that 1.5 million people died of TB, which is the 13th cause of death globally.  

What are the symptoms?

A persistent cough that lasts longer than two to three weeks is the main symptom of TB, says the Western Cape Government.

Other symptoms usually include:

  • Coughing up discoloured mucous with specks of blood
  • Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Chills caused by fever
  • High temperatures and fever
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Swellings in the neck
  • Chest pains and difficulty breathing
  • General feelings of illness that medicines don’t help.

If you have these symptoms, get tested at your doctor, a municipal clinic, or a state day hospital. 

How do you get TB?

TB is caused by Mycobacterium, also known as Koch’s bacillus. The bacteria may enter your body by airborne droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs, speaks or sings. It can even get in through the skin or eat or drink contaminated food. 

The bacteria spreads through your lymphatic system and bloodstream to any of your organs, but usually, it is found in the lungs, hence the diagnosis of pulmonary TB. If you don’t get proper treatment, you could die.

Usually, a healthy person’s immune system can fight and kill the bacteria, and you won’t get sick. But sometimes, your immune system can’t kill the bacteria; instead, it stops the spread through the body. However, the bacteria remain dormant in your body, and this is known as latent TB. 

People with latent TB can’t infect others until their immune system fails to contain the infection and latent TB then evolves into potentially fatal and highly infectious active or open TB.

People at risk

The high-risk groups are usually people who are newly infected with the TB bacteria or people with weak and compromised immune systems such as HIV, cancer, organ transplant or diabetes sufferers.

You are also at risk if:

  • You spent time with a person infected with TB, and they haven’t started treatment yet.
  • You’re from a country with a high TB infection rate like South Africa or travel to a country with a high TB rate.
  • You live or work in TB hotspots like homeless shelters, prisons, of long-term care facilities.
  • Or you’re a healthcare worker who works with infected patients, even if you are vaccinated with the TB vaccine BCG – Bacille Calmette–Guèrin

Getting tested and treated

With any of the TB signs and symptoms, it is best to get free testing at a state or municipal health facility. The test includes providing two sputum samples that are sent to a laboratory for analysis. The results are available within two to three days.

If you have TB, everyone you are in close contact with such as your immediate family will also be screened. Children will be X-rayed or given a tuberculin skin test because they can’t produce sputum.

Once a diagnosis is made, treatment with adherence support from healthcare providers begins immediately. The treatment – which includes a combination of several of TB-fighting antibiotics such as Isoniazid; Rifampin; Ethambutol, or Pyrazinamide – lasts between 6 to 8 months. 

Treatment is free at state or municipal health facilities. Nurses assist you through your treatment period, as it is important that you comply with the course of medication. 

Failure to do so leads to the risk of the resistant strains evolving such as multi-drug resistant (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) forms of tuberculosis which is difficult to treat with the usual course of antibiotics. 

TB can be treated within the required period, but your chances of survival drop by at least 50 to 70 percent with the resistant strains. 

Protecting others

As part of adherence to your treatment, you are encouraged to protect those around you by doing the following: 

  • Practice good personal hygiene
  • Keep your home aired by keeping your windows open and by letting the sunlight in
  • Take your medication as prescribed.
  • Stop smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • Exercise moderately, eat a healthy plant-based diet and try to live as clean as you possibly can
  • Wash your hands often. Be careful what you consume as the bacilli can survive on surfaces like utensils for up to three hours.
  • And when coughing or sneezing, cough into the joint of your arm, covering your mouth. If you use a tissue, flush it down the toilet or place it in a plastic bag before discarding it in the bin.  

You may want to wear a mask around others so that you don’t spread and they don’t inhale. However, within two to three weeks of starting treatment, you will no longer have open TB and aren’t contagious. But stay home until the clinic doctor clears you to return to work or school.

Contact Affinity Health

Contact your doctor before adding any medication or exercise to your daily routine.

Find your preferred Affinity Health physician on the network. 

Finding your nearest GP is as easy as going to our website and clicking on the Find a Doctor tab. You can find this tab under client resources. Now, type in your city or town. 

Affinity Health members can contact us on 0861 11 00 33 to consult with an Affinity Health primary healthcare consultant.


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