World TB Day, observed on 24 March each year, is an opportunity for Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality healthcare, to raise awareness of the global burden of TB and the efforts to eliminate the disease.
When Taryn Thompson was eight years old, she began experiencing frequent stomach cramps that progressively worsened to the point where she could not walk upright.
Despite multiple visits to the GP, blood tests, and trial medications, it took six months to receive a conclusive diagnosis of TB. While the disease usually affects the lungs, it can also affect other parts of the body, and, in Taryn’s case, it affected her kidneys.
Taryn’s parents refused to accept the initial diagnosis. They thought she was “putting it on” to skip school and continued searching for answers until a GP finally put all the puzzle pieces together.
TB, at the time, was a highly uncommon diagnosis in the small Zululand area where Taryn grew up and was previously unknown to local doctors and physicians.
She was treated under the care of a well-known urologist in Durban and took medication for around eight months before recovering.
“The doctors believed that the source of the TB was likely from drinking unpasteurised cows’ milk, which my family frequently received from my dad’s identical twin, a dairy farmer,” explains Taryn. She shares that she suffered various side effects from TB, some of which continued into adulthood.
“My parents were always more protective of me, as this did seem to cause my immune system to be weaker than the average child my age. I didn’t contract the normal colds and flu viruses often, but I tended to get the more serious illnesses until I was in my 20s.
“Both my daughters were born prematurely. I had pre-eclampsia with both pregnancies, and my blood pressure was sky-high. My oldest daughter was delivered by emergency c-section at 34 weeks, and my younger daughter was delivered at 27 weeks, as my high blood pressure had caused me to go into liver failure. I have had many kidney function tests over the years, and the results are always clear – indicating that the kidneys are in good health. Kidney health is often linked to blood pressure issues, but amazingly, in my case, they appear to be unrelated.”
Did you know South Africa is one of the 30 countries with high tuberculosis burden that, in 2020, collectively contributed to 86% of the estimated incident cases worldwide?
“The high burden of TB in SA is due to a combination of factors, including a high prevalence of HIV, poor living conditions, and limited access to healthcare services,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.
“While progress has been made in recent years, much work is still to be done to eliminate TB in SA and improve the health outcomes of those affected by the disease.”
What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis, commonly called TB, is a highly infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB primarily affects the lungs but can also affect other body parts, including the brain, spine, and kidneys.
What Causes TB?
TB is spread from person to person through the air. When infected people cough, sneeze, or talk, they release tiny droplets containing the bacteria into the air. These droplets can be inhaled by others, leading to infection.
TB can also spread through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, although this is less common.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of TB
Symptoms of TB vary depending on the part of the body that is affected. In most cases, TB primarily affects the lungs, causing symptoms such as coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include fever, night sweats, and weight loss.
TB can also affect other body parts, leading to symptoms such as back pain, joint pain, and kidney problems.
Diagnosis of TB typically involves a series of tests, including a physical examination, chest X-ray, and a sputum test.
Additional tests, such as a CT scan or a biopsy, may be required in some cases.
Getting a proper diagnosis and treatment for TB as soon as possible is vital to prevent the spread of the disease and improve the chances of a full recovery.
Treatment and Prevention
The treatment of TB involves a course of antibiotics, which can last for several months. It is essential to complete the entire duration of treatment as prescribed, even if you start to feel better.
Failure to complete the whole course of antibiotics can lead to the development of drug-resistant TB, which is more challenging to treat.
Preventing the spread of TB requires a multi-faceted approach. This includes identifying and treating people with active TB, providing preventative treatment to people at high risk of developing TB, and improving living conditions to reduce the risk of TB transmission.
Other prevention measures include promoting good hygiene practices, such as covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing and providing access to vaccination against TB, such as the BCG vaccine.
A Word on TB And Covid-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted TB prevention and treatment efforts globally. The disruption to healthcare services, including TB testing and treatment, has led to a decline in diagnosing and treating TB cases, which could increase TB-related deaths in the coming years.
In addition, people with TB are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19, highlighting the need to protect vulnerable populations from both diseases.