Dealing with TB starts with awareness
World Tuberculosis (TB) Day on March 24 once again puts the focus on this widespread disease.
In recent years TB has been forgotten, often overshadowed by the HIV/Aids epidemic. Yet there is a strong connection between the two: HIV/Aids has dramatically increased TB infections in South Africa. South Africa is ninth on the list of 22 countries with the highest rates of TB infection, and combined with the devastating impact of HIV/Aids, we are in the midst of a dual epidemic.
Children are the most vulnerable as they can catch TB even if they have been immunised against the disease.
It is very difficult to recognise TB in children. It is up to teachers and parents to be aware that
children cannot always tell you what their symptoms are, so in many cases it takes far too long to diagnose TB correctly. The
child is usually listless, loses weight or experiences severe headaches.
If they are diagnosed with TB at a late stage, they can develop TB meningitis. This occurs as a result of fluid developing on the brain, causing the child to suffer from learning and behavioural disabilities. For the rest of their lives the children with TB meningitis will suffer from paralyses or spasms. These cases are not uncommon, despite effective treatment freely available in most clinics.
The medicines to treat TB need to be taken every day without fail. Skipping even a few days will mean the treatment is ineffectual. Certain programmes are designed to make sure that the medical process is strictly followed. At the Brooklyn Chest Hospital in the Western Cape, for example, children are kept at the hospital for six months to ensure that they do complete their TB treatment. If they do not complete their treatment they could develop Multi-Drug Resistant TB, which can be fatal in some cases. Multi-Drug Resistant TB means that the child has developed resistance to the TB treatment.
Children find it hard to swallow the tablets and sometimes nurses crush them and mix them up as a tonic so it can be fed down a pipe into their stomachs. The tablets also make children nauseous but without the TB treatment there is no hope of recovery. If the child does recover after not completing the course of medication then it is almost inevitable that the TB will reoccur, but this time it will be Multi-Drug Resistant TB.
South Africa will be honouring those who live with TB and those who work to help them in events all over the country on World TB Day. Thousands of TB patients are due to gather in Port Elizabeth where the Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, will sign a declaration pledging the government’s commitment to eradicating TB in our country.
But the government cannot do it alone. It is up to us to spread the message on how to prevent the spread of TB. We need to be aware of the symptoms of TB so we can act quickly to get treatment and to prevent the increase of infection rates. I would like to call on all teachers and parents to recognise that eradicating TB may take time, but we can begin by being informed and aware of the symptoms to reduce the infection rate.
What you need to know about Tb:
- TB can be cured
- TB is contagious
- When the person is on
treatment, TB is no longer contagious
- Get tested for TB if you have a persistent cough, loss of weight or suffer from exhaustion
- Take TB treatment for six months
- Take TB treatment every day
- Avoid alcohol