While the world comes to grips with terms such as COVID-19, social distancing and self-isolation, let us not forget that each year, on 24 March we commemorate World Tuberculosis (TB) Day to raise public awareness about the devastating health, social and economic consequences of TB, and to step up efforts to end the global TB epidemic.
The date marks the day in 1882 when Dr Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the bacterium that causes TB, which opened the way towards diagnosing and curing this disease.
TB remains one the world's deadliest infectious disease. Each day, over 4000 people lose their lives to TB and close to 30,000 people fall ill with this preventable and curable disease.
What is TB?
Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) that most often affect the lungs. Tuberculosis is curable and preventable.
How does it spread?
TB is spread from person to person through the air. When people with lung TB cough, sneeze or spit, they propel the TB germs into the air. A person needs to inhale only a few of these germs to become infected.
About one-third of the world's population has latent TB, which means people have been infected by TB bacteria but are not (yet) ill with disease and cannot transmit the disease.
People infected with TB bacteria have a lifetime risk of falling ill with TB of 10%. However persons with compromised immune systems, such as people living with HIV, malnutrition or diabetes, or people who use tobacco, have a much higher risk of falling ill.
What are the symptoms of TB?
If you or someone you know has pulmonary TB, they will commonly:
- cough up phlegm
- cough up blood
- have a consistent fever, including low-grade fevers
- have night sweats
- have chest pains
- have unexplained weight loss
These symptoms may be mild for many months. This can lead to delays in seeking medical assistance, and results in transmission of the bacteria to others. One person ill with TB can infect up to 10-15 other people through close contact over the course of a year. Without proper treatment, up to two-thirds of people ill with TB will die.
Your doctor will be able to tell you whether you should be tested for TB after reviewing all your symptoms.
Who is at risk?
The risk for getting pulmonary TB is highest for people who are in close contact with those who have TB. This includes being around family or friends with TB or working in places such as the following that often house people with TB:
- correctional facilities
- group homes
- nursing homes
People also at risk for developing pulmonary TB disease are:
- older adults
- small children
- people who smoke
- people with an autoimmune disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- people with lifelong conditions, such as diabetes or kidney disease
- people who inject drugs
- people who are immunocompromised, such as those living with HIV, undergoing chemotherapy, or taking chronic steroids
How is it treated?
Active, drug-sensitive TB disease is treated with a standard 6-month course of 4 antimicrobial drugs that are provided with information, supervision and support to the patient by a health worker or trained volunteer. The vast majority of TB cases can be cured when medicines are provided and taken properly.
How to prevent pulmonary TB
It can be difficult to avoid contracting TB if you work in an environment frequented by people with TB or if you are caring for a friend or family member with TB.
Following are a few tips for minimizing your risk for pulmonary TB:
- Provide education on preventing TB like cough etiquette and hand washing.
- Avoid extended close contact with someone who has TB.
- Air out rooms regularly.
- Cover your face with a mask that is approved for protection against TB.
Anyone exposed to tuberculosis should be tested, even if they show no symptoms.
Campus Health Service Screening
If you are concerned that you may have TB, complete the CHS Screening Tool.
If you answer YES to any of the questions, please contact CHS to exclude for TB.
If you are battling with TB or need to speak to a health professional, book an appointment with a Sister or Doctor at CHS by calling 021 808 3494/6.