Tuberculosis (TB) is a common and often deadly infectious disease caused by mycobacterium, in humans. TB is a contagious disease. Like the common cold, it spreads through the air; when infectious people cough, sneeze, or spit they propel TB germs into the air! A person needs only to inhale a small number of these to be infected. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs as capital TB but can also affect many other parts of the body.
What are the signs and symptoms?
- A cough for longer than 2 weeks
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Night sweats, even when the weathers cold
- Chest pains
- Tiredness and weakness
- Coughing up blood
How is TB diagnosed?
Any of the above may be an indication of the disease. Saliva is tested for the TB germ. A chest X-ray may show TB in the lungs. A skin test done on children can also be an indication. When a person has been diagnosed as suffering from TB, all those who have been in close contact with that person should be examined. TB testing and treatment is free in South Africa.
Medication must be started as soon as possible and it must be taken regularly. It takes 6 months for TB to be cured. Within 2 weeks of starting treatment, the person will no longer spread the disease. If treatment is missed, the risk of a drug resistant strain of TB is possible. This TB is very difficult to treat and needs more than 18 months of treatment with long hospitalisation. If medicines are stopped too soon the disease may start all over again.
How can TB be prevented?
- Cover your mouth when coughing.
- Immunisation of all babies at a clinic within 1 year of birth.
- Eating balanced meals consisting of food like meat, fish, eggs, beans, brown bread, maize meal, vegetables, and fruits.
- Alcohol should be avoided because it lowers body resistance, and affects the treatment.
- Smoking causes further damage to the lungs and can also cause heart disease and lung cancer.
- Getting some sunshine, fresh air, exercise and living in a clean environment.
This article was supplied by Dr. A.M. Bux (General Practitioner)