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TB: Everything you need to know

Tuberculosis (TB) is the leading cause of death in South Africa. And while statistics show that the mortality rate of tuberculosis has actually declined since 2009, the disease continues to remain a high burden on the country’s medical resources.

“Poor socioeconomic conditions, as well as infrastructure, are contributing factors to the high rate of tuberculosis in South Africa,” says Dr Ismail Hassan, a pulmonologist practising at Mediclinic Midstream. “KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces, together with the Northern and Eastern Cape, have the highest incidences of the disease. Health education and awareness are therefore critical in the prevention of tuberculosis.”

Classified as an infectious disease, tuberculosis is caused by pathogens from the Mycobacterium bacterial group. Divided into active and latent forms, tuberculosis is generally respiratory-related. Because the lungs are affected, incessant coughing, chest pain, weight loss, night sweats and blood in the sputum are distinguishing symptoms. Rarer forms of the disease can affect other parts of the body such as the bones and joints, abdominal cavity, as well as the lymph nodes and digestive system. Symptoms are more generalised and include fatigue, weight-loss and prolonged fever.

While latent forms of tuberculosis can be asymptomatic, is it fair to say that a fair portion of the population suffering from active forms leave it too late before seeking medical advice?

“Definitely,” says Hassan. “Delayed diagnosis exacerbates the high rate of tuberculosis further. Early detection is imperative, which in turn greatly enhances treatment. It is also important to emphasise the fact that tuberculosis is both treatable and curable.”

When a cough becomes a medical emergency

TB, TB infographic

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.