Some of you might not know that March is TB awareness month. Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection mainly affecting the lungs that cause thousands of deaths every year worldwide. TB is the second greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent and does not only infect people with HIV/AIDS. In 2012, 8.6 million people fell ill with TB and 1.3 million died from TB. Over 95% of TB deaths occur in third-world countries, and it is among the top three causes of death for women aged 15 to 44. The number of TB infections are declining at a slow rate and this is due to active campaigns informing people about TB, treatment and prevention.
10 facts about TB (provided by Marie Stopes)
- Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection that usually affects the lungs
It also affects other parts of the body, like the brain, kidneys, and spine, causing serious damage or even death if left untreated.
- TB is the leading cause of death in South Africa
In 2015, the disease accounted for 7.1% of deaths among South African women and 8.3% among men.
- TB is contagious
TB is spread through expelled droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes laughs, speaks, or spits. You can contract TB by breathing in these particles, but not everyone who comes into contact with the bacteria will be infected.
- Some people are more susceptible to TB infection than others
In South Africa, most of us have at some point come into contact with TB germs, but not all of us have contracted the disease. Those at greatest risk are people with weakened immune systems (due to illness or HIV infection) and those who spend long periods of time with others who have the disease.
- You’re at the greatest risk if you live with infected people
Sitting next to an infected person on public transport isn’t likely to result in getting infected. However, living in the same home as an infected person does put you in danger, as your risk increases with the more time you spend among sick people.
- If you get infected, you may never get sick
Less than 10% of people who are infected with TB get sick (i.e, develop active tuberculosis). This means you can carry the bacteria in your body without ever showing or experiencing symptoms of the disease.
- You’re most contagious when you’re experiencing active TB
Active TB can set in within weeks, months or even years of being infected, and this is when you’re most likely to spread the disease to others.
- TB is not inherited
Years ago there was a belief that TB was passed down from generation to generation. Now we know that the reason it may appear that way is because people who live together are most likely to get infected by the disease; not because it is inherited, but because extended exposure to TB bacteria can result in infection.
- TB has many noticeable signs and symptoms
· A persistent cough that lasts at least three weeks or longer
· Coughing up blood
· Pain when breathing or coughing
· Chest pain
· Unexplained weight loss
· Loss of appetite
· Night sweats
These symptoms may differ depending on the part of your body that has been affected. For example, if your kidneys are infected, you may detect blood in your urine. Meanwhile, back pain may be an indication of spinal TB.
- There is a TB vaccination
The Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine is recommended for healthy babies, to be administered as soon as possible after they’re born. HIV-positive babies cannot, unfortunately, receive the vaccine. Adults can also be vaccinated against tuberculosis.
In order to continue the steady decline of TB, knowledge is key. Therefore, it is our responsibility to arm ourselves with the knowledge to stop the spread of TB.