What is T.B?

TB is a disease that mainly affects the lungs, but can be found in any other body organ. It is caused by a germ called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The germs are present in the sputum coughed up by those that have TB of the lungs. The germs usually destroy the soft tissue of the lungs, and this causes cavities (holes) in the lungs, resulting in difficulty with breathing, and blood can be coughed up. If untreated, TB can cause death.

What is T.B?How do people get TB?

The disease is passed on from person to person. When a person who has TB coughs, sneezes or spits, germs are spread into the air from where they can be breathed in. Fortunately not all those infected contract TB, in most cases the germs are sealed off in the body and they do not multiply. However, if the body's defenses can no longer control the germs, they become active and the person gets TB.

Who is at risk?

Close contacts of TB patients
Children under 5 years
Persons with diseases like diabetes and AIDS
Persons who take excessive alcohol, and drug addicts
Persons with poor nutrition and lack of food
Persons suffering from stress
Persons living in poorly ventilated, over-crowded rooms

What are the signs and symptoms of TB?

  • A cough for longer than 2 weeks
  • Chest pains
  • Tiredness and weakness of the body
  • Loss of appetite and weight
  • Night sweats, even when it is cold
  • Coughing up blood

How is TB diagnosed?

Any of the signs and symptoms mentioned may be an indication of the disease. Seek help at your clinic or hospital if you have these symptoms. The germs are found in the sputum (spit), when tested in a laboratory. An X-Ray done at a clinic or hospital, may show cavities or changes in the lungs. A skin test done on children by a nurse or doctor, can be an indication. When a person has been diagnosed as suffering from TB, all children under five years of age that have been in close contact with that person should be examined, so that if necessary they may also receive treatment.

Treatment of TB

TB can be cured with little or no complications. Medication must, however, be started as soon as possible and it must be taken regularly according to the instructions given at the clinic. It takes 6 months for TB to be cured completely, but within 2 weeks of starting treatment, the person will no longer spread the disease. Intensive phase medication is given for the first 2 months, 4 or 5 tablets (depending on body weight) are taken Monday to Friday. Continuation phase medication is given for the next 4 months, 2 or 3 tablets (depending on body weight) are taken Monday to Friday

Treatment must be completed

It is a mistake to stop taking medicines when a person feels better. All treatment / medicine must be taken for the full 6 months. If treatment / medicine 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 / medicine, with a long stay in hospital.

It takes a long time for TB germs to be destroyed. If medicines are stopped too soon and without instructions of the nurse or doctor the disease may start all over again.

TB and HIV Interactions

In people with healthy immune systems, only 10% of those who are infected with TB ever become sick from TB. Over 50% of people who are co-infected with TB and HIV will get sick with TB before they die. HIV increases the risk of developing TB. Not all HIV-positive people have TB. Not all people with TB are HIV-positive. HIV and AIDS is common in socio-economically stressed communities, and these same communities are also vulnerable to TB.

How can TB be prevented?

Covering your mouth when coughing.
Immunising all babies at a clinic within 1 year of birth.
Eating balanced meals consisting of food like meat, fish, eggs, beans, amasi, brown bread, maize meal, vegetables, fruit.
Avoiding alcohol because it lowers body resistance, and affects the treatment.
Avoid smoking as it 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.


DOTS stands for Directly Observed Treatment Short Course (6 months)
DOTS supporters help patients to ensure that medicines are taken daily
DOTS ensures TB diagnosis is available to every one free of charge
DOTS ensures that good quality standardized treatment / medicines are available for all TB patients free of charge.
DOTS does not involve long periods of hospitalization, instead a person can take treatment at home, at work or at school. The DOTS combines five elements: political commitment, microscopy services, drug supply, monitoring systems, and direct observation of treatment

TB in the workplace

Once a person has been on TB treatment for 2 weeks, they are not infectious. Persons with TB can continue to work. TB treatment can be given by a treatment supporter at work.


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Source : KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health