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Together we can stop the spread of TB

Written by Noluthando Mkhize and Ongezwa Manyathi
South Africa has made some great strides in TB prevention and treatment in the past five years and since the launch of a comprehensive TB testing and counselling campaign.

The massive TB screening campaign, launched last year by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, received a positive response particularly in correctional centres and the mining community.

Up until December 2015, the National Department of Health was able to provide screening to over 400 000 people living in the six peri-mining districts in South Africa.

Tuberculosis is one of the major diseases that are responsible for illness and death worldwide.

In South Africa TB kills 80 percent of HIV positive people, and it is responsible for 120 000 deaths annually. Government wants to reduce this number to less than 20 000.

To address this challenge, last year during TB month government launched a three-year massive TB screening programme, similar to the HIV counselling and testing campaign rolled out in 2010, to reduce the number of new infections and related deaths.

Together we can stop the spread of TB by getting tested and learning more about the disease.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

What is TB?

TB is a disease caused by germs that are spread from person to person through the air. TB usually affects the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, kidneys or the spine.

How is TB spread?

When a person with TB of the lungs coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings, TB germs from the lungs are expelled into the air. TB germs can survive longer in a dark enclosed place and remain suspended in the air for several hours. These germs can be inhaled by anyone who shares the same air and then cause infection.

How can TB infection be prevented?

TB can be prevented by:

  • Covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing
  • Opening windows and doors at home and in crowded rooms, churches, buildings and taxis
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating healthy food
  • Stopping smoking
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Visiting the clinic if you have been in contact with someone with TB or if you have any of the symptoms of TB.
How do I know if I have TB?

You may have TB if you have any of these symptoms:

  • A cough for two weeks or more

  • Night sweats

  • Unexplained loss of weight
  • Fever
Can TB be cured?

Yes, TB can be cured if treated early. You should take the medicine for at least six months. It is very important to take the medicines as prescribed and finish all of them.

Why must the treatment be taken for a full six months?

This is because the TB germ is difficult to kill. A combination of four different medicines is used to treat TB disease to make sure that all the germs hiding in the different parts of the body are killed. Even though you will start feeling better and your symptoms will go away after two weeks of taking treatment, do not stop taking the medicines. If you stop taking anti TB medicines too soon, you could get sick again. You could also get a kind of TB that will not respond to the common medicines used to treat it (Drug-Resistant TB).

Can I use tradtional medicine to cure TB while on TB treatment?

No, you must not use traditional medicine together with TB medicine because this may cause other side-effects or prevent TB medicines from working well. It is important to take your TB medication every day for six months to be cured, and to stop using traditional medicine while taking TB treatment.

TB and HIV

People who are living with HIV are more at risk of getting TB infection and disease. If you are HIV-positive you must report symptoms of TB and request to be tested at your nearest clinic. If you have TB, and are HIV-positive you can be started on antiretroviral treatment early to improve your response to TB medicines and prevent death. If you do not have TB, you can be started on TB preventive treatment. This treatment will help prevent you from getting TB disease. You must get tested for HIV and know your status.

How can TB infection be prevented?
  • Cover your mouth with inside of elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • Open windows and doors to let fresh air circulate or flow freely
  • Do not spit on the ground, use tissue and throw it in dustbin
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water
How do I know if I have TB?
  • A cough for two weeks or more
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained loss of weight
  • Fever

For more information about TB TB and drug-resistant TB contatct the national or provincial health office:

  • National TB control programme: 012 395 8815 / 8074
  • Eastern Cape 040 608 0814/1408
  • Free State 015 408 1429/1588
  • Gauteng 011 355 3098
  • KwaZulu-Natal 033 935 2918/2586
  • Limpopo 015 290 9188
  • Mpumalanga 013 766 3046
  • North West 018 387 1921/8
  • Northern Cape 053 830 0529
  • Western Cape 021 483 3647/5432