What You Need to Know about TB (Tuberculosis)

(Western Cape Government)
Summary
What is TB?

    TB (tuberculosis) is a disease that is caused by a germ that attacks and damages the lungs, and it can be easily passed to others through coughing or sneezing.

How do people get infected?

    When an infected person coughs, sneezes or spits saliva onto the ground the germs are spread into the surrounding air and remain for a long time. If you inhale that air you can breathe in the germs and get infected.

What are the early symptoms?

  • Persistent cough for more than two weeks.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Drenching night sweats.
  • General feeling of illness or fever for more than two weeks.

Where and how do I get tested?

    You can get free testing at your nearest clinic. Testing is done by taking two sputum samples and the results are normally available after two to three days.

What will happen if I have TB?

    TB treatment is free from the clinic. You will be started on TB medication, and the treatment is taken for six to eight months. A nurse at the clinic will tell you about the disease, how it is treated, the importance of adherence support that can be provided while on treatment, the diet to follow, the importance of screening your immediate family members as well as things to avoid when you are on treatment.

Who can get TB and what can I do to protect others and myself from getting TB?

    Anyone can get TB. TB is NOT a disease for the poor only. Things you can do to protect yourself and others from getting TB are:
  • Taking your TB treatment as prescribed by your health worker.
  • Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Open windows and let sunlight come through your house.
  • Exercise and live a healthy lifestyle.
  • Eat enough healthy food.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Avoid alcohol intake.

What will happen if I am HIV positive?

    TB is curable even if you are HIV positive. You will be assessed for Anti Retroviral Treatment and started if you qualify. You will also be given treatment to prevent opportunistic infections.

How long do I have to take my TB medication?

    You will have to take your TB medication every day for six to eight months. TB treatment is free and there are people who will assist you to take your medication. You will be tested after two months to monitor the progress. If the results are negative you will be introduced to the new set of medication for four months. You will be tested again after six months to make sure that you are cured.

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

    No, you mustn't use traditional medicine together with TB medicine because this may cause other side effects or make the TB treatment not work properly. It is important to take your TB medication everyday for six months to be cured. You should NOT stop taking medication you received from the clinic, but you should stop the traditional medicine while taking TB treatment.

What will happen if I don't take my medication correctly?

    If you don't take your medication correctly the TB germ will develop resistance to treatment. You may develop MDR or XDR TB.

What is MDR and XDR

    MDR TB stands for "Multi Drug Resistant Tuberculosis", which is a specific form of drug resistant TB resistant to at least two of the most powerful first line anti-TB drugs. It is caused by the lack of compliance to treatment and incorrect use of tablets used to treat TB. The TB germ protects itself against TB drugs, which makes it difficult to kill the germ and different drugs need to be used. MDR TB is difficult to treat and may take 24 months to cure.

    XDR TB, also called "Extensive Drug Resistant TB", is where the germ is resistant to drugs used to treat TB and some of the drugs used to treat Multi Drug Resistant TB.

Are XDR and MDR TB curable?

    Yes, there are drugs that can be used to treat MDR and XDR TB provided you complete treatment under supervision. These drugs should be taken for 24 months. If you have MDR or XDR TB you will have to receive daily injections for six months or longer.

    You may have to be admitted to hospital for many months. MDR and XDR TB diagnosis can only be confirmed by taking sputum samples to the laboratory and the results are usually available after three weeks. The body reacts to germs by producing the cells to fight off and destroy the germs. In some people the body's cells fail to kill the germs, which therefore continue to multiply and spread to other parts of the body.

What should I do if I have been in contact with a person who has MDR or XDR TB?

    If you have been in contact with MDR or XDR TB patient it is possible to get the disease. You must go to a clinic for TB screening and testing.

What should I do if I have TB and my children or family have been in contact with me?

    All children under five years of age who are in close contact with a TB patient should be taken to the clinic to be screened by the TB nurse. Adults who have symptoms of TB should also go to the clinic to be tested for TB.

    TB is curable if you take your medication correctly for the full duration. If you feel better after taking medication continue until the nurse tells you to stop. TB is dangerous if you don't comply with medication and it can lead to even more serious complications like MDR and XDR and even death.

Useful Tips if You Have TB or Know of Someone Who Has This Disease

    Respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette can prevent the spread of TB. If you have to sneeze, cough or spit, you MUST:
  • Turn your head away from people when you cough, sneeze or spit.
  • Try to sneeze, cough or spit into a tissue or toilet paper. Throw the used tissue or toilet paper into a bin.
  • If you do not have a tissue or toilet paper on hand, sneeze and cough into your upper arm.
  • Use a tissue or toilet paper if you need to blow your nose and throw the used tissue or toilet paper into a bin.
  • If you have a cough, cold or flu, cover your mouth and nose by wearing a mask or scarf when you are in enclosed or crowded spaces, for example when visiting your clinic, travelling in public transport, or in your home.
  • Continuously wash your hands so that you do not transmit germs.
The content on this page was last updated on 15 March 2014