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Tuberculosis: How can TB be prevented?

Tuberculosis or TB is potentially a dangerous disease that can be deadly and can be successfully treated and cured with antibiotics. TB is easily transmitted through the air when an infected person speaks, sneezes, laughs, sings, or coughs.

Dr Vuyo Gqola, Chief Healthcare Officer of the Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS), has warned that tuberculosis (TB) remains an important threat to the health of the nation, and urged South Africans to take a proactive approach to their health and infectious illnesses such as TB.

TB spreads from person-to-person

TB is an infectious disease that can be passed on from person-to-person through coughs, sneezes, and spitting. People nearby may inhale the TB bacteria and become infected.

While people may contract the TB germ it does not always develop into the active form of the illness. This active form of the disease often occurs when the immune system is weakened, such as when an individual has another medical condition such as HIV or diabetes.

Most people with TB will stop spreading the illness just two weeks after they start taking medicine for it. The early treatment of TB therefore helps to ensure that individuals do not spread the disease to their  loved ones.

Anyone can develop TB

Anyone can contract TB, but some people are at greater risk of developing an active form of the disease. You should take extra care if you:

  • Suffer from poor nutrition and a lack of food
  • Have other chronic illnesses such as HIV and diabetes
  • Are in close contact with TB patients
  • Suffer from a great deal of stress
  • Take excessive amounts of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Live in poorly ventilated or overcrowded conditions

TB is not the common cold

“Many people with active TB make the mistake of thinking they may have the common cold or cough, and leave it untreated in the belief that it will go away in time. If you have a cough and are experiencing night sweats for more than three weeks, you should visit your doctor as it may be a sign that you have contracted TB,” advises Dr Gqola.

Here are some symptoms that are common in most people who have TB:

  • Coughing for longer than two weeks
  • Coughing up flecks of blood
  • Chest pains
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Night sweats, even when it is cold
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

Do not stop treatment

It is important to take TB treatment as instructed by a doctor for a minimum of six months to ensure that the TB bacteria are destroyed.

According to Dr Gqola, more than 95 percent of people who are properly treated for TB and who take their medicine as per the instruction of their doctor are cured.

“The best thing you can do to support a family member or friend with TB is to make sure that they take their medication for the whole six months of treatment and that they do not stop taking the treatment when they start feeling better or because they don’t like it”.

“By not finishing your course of TB medication you are at risk of developing multi drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) – a strain of TB bacteria that has become resistant to TB drugs that is more difficult to treat and can be fatal,” concludes Dr Gqola.