Tackling tuberculosis: it is SA’s biggest killer
With thousands of deaths reported every year, tuberculosis remains SA’s biggest killer – yet it can be cured
IT’S completely treatable, and the current Miss SA Tamaryn Green is living proof that TB is curable. Recently, the beauty revealed how she suffered and conqured the disease three years ago.
Just six to nine months of treatment and regular check-ups could mean the difference between life and death. And yet thousands of South Africans die of TB every year. “People are not scared of it, they don’t talk much about it, even at leadership level,” health minister Aaron Motsoaledi said in March.
This is why it’s important to take tuberculosis seriously.
WHAT IS TB?
Tuberculosis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that affects the lungs and can be spread to other parts of the body. It is an airborne disease spread through water droplets in the air. In other words, coughing, sneezing, talking, singing and even breathing can spread the disease. TB is the leading cause of death worldwide, with 1,8 million people losing their lives each year, according to non-profit organisation TB Proof.
One in 100 people in South Africa become ill with TB every year. Around 438 000 people fell ill with TB in South Africa in 2016. Of these, 182 000 were women and 256 000 were men, according to the 2017 WHO Global TB Report The report also showed that roughly 124 000 people died of TB in the same year, .
About 5% of people with active TB haven’t been tested, the Journal of Infectious Diseases estimates. Another 13% have had a TB test but never received their diagnosis. And many patients have yet to start treatment, despite testing positive for TB.
Of the 124 000 people who died of TB in South Africa in 2016, 101 000 were HIV positive.
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TB
TB is divided into two categories: latent TB, where the infection is present in your body yet you present no symptoms. You are not contagious in this state. Then there’s active TB, where the bacteria multiply in your body, you exhibit symptoms and you are contagious.
The bacteria that cause TB can develop resistance to the antimicrobial drugs used to cure the disease, which can lead to multi-drugresistant (MDR) TB.
In South Africa there were about 19 000 cases of MDR or rifampicin-resistant (RR) TB in 2016. And only 11 000 of those were receiving treatment.
If you think you may have TB consult your doctor or visit your local clinic, where you will have a skin or blood test to determine whether you have the infection. Early detection is important and you’ll be started on treatment immediately if you have it.
Treatment for latent TB involves taking medication to prevent the bacteria from waking up in your body. For active TB several antibiotics may be administered to take over a course of six to nine months to cure the infection.
ABOVE: Health minster Aaron Motsoaledi says no one takes TB seriously, even though it’s the country’s biggest killer. LEFT: Miss SA Tamaryn Green once battled TB.