LIFESTYLE NEWS - Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious infectious disease that mainly affects your lungs but can be found in other organs of the body. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis are spread from one person to another through tiny droplets released into the air via coughs and sneezes.
According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa is one of the countries with the highest incidence of TB. It is estimated that about 1% of the population of about 50 million develop active TB disease each year.
This is, worldwide, the third highest incidence of any country after India and China. About 60% of those infected have both HIV and TB infection. In addition, there is now increasing resistance to some of the anti-TB drugs, making TB the leading cause of death in SA.
And it discriminates based on socioeconomic status, disproportionally affecting males, the poor, the young and the nonwhite population groups. It is also rampant in the mining industry, because workers are still exposed to silica dust, overcrowded hostel living, poor nutritional status and stress. When they fall ill, they return to their families in rural areas and spread the disease to them.
Another reason it remains a major killer is the increase in drug-resistant strains of the bacteria. Since the first antibiotics were used more than 60 years ago, some TB germs have developed the ability to survive and that is passed on to their descendants. Some TB bacteria have developed resistance to the most commonly used treatments, such as Isoniazid and Rifampicin.
Are you at risk?
Any of the following conditions can weaken your immune system or increase your risk:
- HIV/Aids, cancer, diabetes mellitus, severe kidney disease, being on medication for cancer or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Malnutrition and poverty.
- Being very young or very old.
- Living in poor overcrowded areas with poor access to ventilation and proper healthcare.
- IV drug abuse or alcohol abuse.
- Smoking can also increase risk.
- Healthcare workers getting regular exposure.
Signs and symptoms
It is possible to have bacteria that cause tuberculosis in your body but not getting sick if your immune system is good. You can have what is called latent TB. It is also called inactive TB or TB infection, and it is not contagious.
Active TB can spread to others. It can occur in the first few weeks after infection with the TB bacteria, or it might occur years later after having latent TB.
Signs and symptoms include:
- Coughing that lasts three or more weeks.
- Coughing up blood.
- Chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing.
- Weight loss.
- Night sweats.
- Loss of appetite.
Tuberculosis can also affect other parts of the body, including kidneys, joints, spine or brain. When TB occurs outside the lungs, signs and symptoms vary.
For example, tuberculosis of the spine may give you back pain and tuberculosis in your kidneys might cause blood in your urine, in the joints you might have severely swollen painful joints, in the brain you will have headache, fever and neck stiffness.
It is important to see your doctor as soon as possible if you have two or more of the above symptoms to exclude TB, especially if you are an at risk individual.
Medication is the only way of treatment. But treating TB takes much longer than treating other types of bacterial infections. You must take antibiotics for at least six to nine months. The exact drugs and length of treatment depend on your age, overall health, possible drug resistance, whether or not you are getting infected for the first time, the form of TB (latent or active) and the infection’s location in the body.
The most common medications used to treat tuberculosis include Isoniazid, Rifampicin, Ethambutol and Pyrazinamide. If you have drug-resistant TB, a combination of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones and injectable medications, such as Amikacin, Kanamycin or Capreomycin, are generally used for 20 to 30 months.
Some types of TB are developing resistance to these medications as well. A number of new drugs are being looked at. To help people stick with their treatment, a programme called directly observed treatment is recommended.