Help us fight TB | Western Cape Government

Help us fight TB

Despite significant progress over the last few decades, Tuberculosis (TB) continues to be the top infectious killer worldwide, claiming over 4 500 lives a day.

Dr checking teenager girl's vitals

What is TB?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection caused by a bacterium Mycobacterium Tuberculosis also known as Koch’s bacillus. It spreads through the lymph nodes and bloodstream to any organ in the body but is usually found in the lungs. Other areas affected include the spine, brain and kidneys.

How is TB spread?

TB is a highly infectious disease that spread’s through the air when a person with TB coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings.  Although the TB bacteria can live in your body without developing symptoms, if it’s not treated properly, TB can be fatal.

TB progresses from latent TB infection into the disease TB. This means that TB bacteria can live in your body without developing symptoms. People with latent TB infection don’t feel sick immediately because their bodies are able to fight the bacteria to stop them from growing.  Only once the TB bacteria become active in your body, your immune system begins to weaken.

What are the symptoms to look out for?

TB bacteria most commonly grow in the lungs, and can cause the following symptoms:

  • a bad cough that doesn't respond to medication,
  • weakness or fatigue,
  • weight loss,
  • loss of appetite,
  • night sweats,
  • pain in the chest,
  • coughing up blood or sputum (mucus from deep inside the lungs), and
  • chills caused by fever.

Young man taking his TB medication

Anyone can get TB, but people at high risk generally fall into 2 categories:

1. People recently infected with TB bacteria.

2. People with medical conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV and diabetes.

You're at increased risk for being infected if:

  • you've spent time with a person with TB,
  • you're from a country or have visited areas where TB is very common'
  • you live or work where TB is more common, such as a homeless shelter, prison or jail, or long-term care facility, or
  • you're a health-care worker who works with clients or patients who are at increased risk for TB.

What are the TB statistics? 

A more dangerous form of TB is multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB). This is when the TB bacteria you’re infected with, doesn’t respond to some of the TB medication.

South Africa falls under the 27 high burden drug resistant countries, which means we have at least 4 000 cases of MDR TB each year and/or at least 10% of TB cases reported, are MDR TB.

Cases reported 

Year Drug sensitive TB Drug resistant TB
Drug resistant TB
Incidence rate / 100 00
2017 45000 1450 122 728.4
2016 42580 1511 196 696.1
2015 43294 1500 252 721.2
2014 43042 1162 152 723.5
2013 44761 1133 96 764.3
2012 46096 1288 123 804.7

Source: Western Cape Department of Health

The Western Cape Department of Health statistics show a decline of TB cases since 2008 apart from a slight increase in 2017 from  2016.

According to the Department, the focus for 2018/19 with regard to finding TB cases will be to identify and target high risk group for screening and testing.

Reported TB cases per year from Western Cape Department of Health

Getting the help you need

Free testing and TB treatment is available at all the public health facilities in the province including City of Cape Town municipal clinics. There are 6 TB hospitals in the province:

A mother and daughter's tuberculosis story

Erin* is the typical energetic 14 year old school girl with a lust for life. Towards the end of 2017 she developed a nagging cough that would come and go. A very high fever accompanied with headaches landed her in hospital where no conclusive diagnosis of her illness could be made. Her mother Mandy* decided to take her back to their family doctor. This time round he took a sputum specimen and sent it off for a range of tests.

He called Mandy a few days later asking to see her immediately. He informed her that Erin had tuberculosis. A chest x-ray showing a spot on her lung confirmed the doctor’s diagnosis

Their family doctor referred them to the Retreat Community Health Clinic for case management and treatment. Mandy was hesitant because of the reputation Community Health Clinics have. Her doctor assured her that TB is best treated by government healthcare facilities. These facilities are better equipped in terms of their experience in managing the disease and the spread thereof.

Dreading their visit to the day hospital with visions of an overcrowded, unhygienic facility with long queues they went to the Retreat Community Health Centre. Expecting to be met by overworked and unfriendly staff they were pleasantly surprised to find the centre offering world-class quality treatment. The doctors and nursing staff involved with Erin’s treatment were hands-on, caring, empathetic and above all else, extremely professional.

 The facility was clean and well managed. The process was smooth and not time-consuming. They received excellent service from every person involved in Erin’s treatment. The doctors, pharmacists, counsellors and community workers, who did home visits to check if they were adhering to her treatment regimen, were all dedicated to see Erin cured. With the help of the dedicated staff at the day hospital Erin finished her treatment of 6 months, and was cleared in May 2018.

Mandy would like to thank the medical team responsible for Erin’s treatment and that of other TB patients at Retreat Community Health Centre. They are among others;

  • Staff nurse Titus
  • Sister Sparks
  • Counsellor Zubeida
  • Doctor Cole
  • Doctor Mendelsohn

The fight against tuberculosis in the Western Cape is in good hands with these dedicated medical staff at the forefront.

*Names have been changed.

Together, we can stop the spread of TB

The content on this page was last updated on 12 July 2018