Health and Safety

Tuberculosis (TB)

(Information provided by the Department of Health)

What is TB?

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.

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
  • HIV positive persons with lowered immune systems
  • 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. TB testing and treatment is free. 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?

  • People on TB medication must complete their treatment, this prevents the spread of TB.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with tissue paper or your hands when coughing or sneezing.  Do not cough / sneeze / spit on other people.  Do not let other people cough, sneeze or spit on you.
  • Wash hands with soap and water.
  • Immunise of all babies at a clinic within 1 year of birth.
  • Keep your body healthy by eating balanced meals consisting of food like meat, fish, eggs, beans, mills, amasi, brown bread, maize meal, vegetables, fruits.
    Alcohol should be avoided because it lowers the body's resistance to sickness and affects the treatment.
  • Smoking causes further damage to the lungs and can also cause heart disease and lung cancer.
  • Keep your window open in your home - fresh air blows the TB germs away and sunshine kills the TB germs
  • Keep your body healthy by exercising



DOTS stands for Directly Observed Treatment Short Course (6 months)
DOTS supporters help patients to ensure that medicines are swallowed daily
DOTS ensures that good quality standardized treatment / medicines are available for all TB patients free of chards
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.

TB testing and treatment is Free! (Information provided with compliments from the Department of Health)


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