In the last century 200 million people have succumbed to tuberculosis (TB) the world over. Yet few people grasp the magnitude of this epidemic, its high death toll and its damaging impact on many more millions of people.
According to Dr Caroline Maslo, medical advisor: Prime Cure, this is troubling given that TB is a preventable and curable disease. “Essentially TB was allowed to grow to epidemic proportions globally, mainly because of a lack of access to care and funding. This in turn stymied empowerment at community level, leading to a general lack of knowledge and a poor understanding of the disease.”
“However, it is positive to note that considerable new advances in diagnostic, treatment and prevention tools have emerged for the first time in decades, following renewed efforts and concrete steps taken in the fight against TB,” says Dr Maslo.
According to Dr Charmaine Pailman, managing director of Netcare’s Primary Care division, which provides comprehensive primary healthcare services through its national network of 88 Medicross family medical and dental centres and Prime Cure clinics, free TB information and screening for members of the public will be offered at Medicross centres and Prime Cure clinics from 08h00 until 17h00 on World TB Day, Sunday, 24 March 2013 and also on Monday, 25 March 2013.
The screening will entail completing a short questionnaire, which will take only a few minutes but is needed for early detection and diagnosis for anyone who may have undiagnosed TB. Those in need of assistance will be referred on for further investigation and care. The countrywide screening programme is part of Netcare Primary Care division’s support of “a world free of TB”.
The disease is extremely prevalent in South Africa, which is ranked third in the world in terms of its TB burden. “Issues that have in the past fuelled the epidemic in SA include lack of awareness and information, general misconceptions, not adhering to medication regimes and the late and inadequate detection of TB cases in the context of the HIV epidemic,” adds Dr Pailman.
“For example, TB is often seen as a disease of the lungs only. Yet in one out of seven cases the TB germ will also affect other organs, causing infection to spread to other parts of the body. This is known as extra pulmonary tuberculosis, which can affect any organ but most frequently the lymph nodes, bones and joints, the brain, the skin and the genito-urinary tract (the reproductive and urinary systems). In this instance diagnosis may be more difficult and the treatment process longer.”
“By tackling such misconceptions and by better understanding the disease we can fight it from a basis of strength and knowledge with greater success,” notes Dr Pailman.
TB is an infectious airborne disease that may be passed from person to person through coughs, sneezes or spitting. People nearby may inhale the TB bacteria and become infected. It is estimated that one-third of the world’s population is infected with the TB bacteria but that not all of these individuals will develop TB. “If a person’s immune system is, for example, weakened by malnourishment, HIV infection, other chronic diseases, chemotherapy or long-term steroid treatment, he or she may develop tuberculosis,” explains Dr Maslo.
The following symptoms should alert you to possible TB infection in your body:
- Coughing for more than three weeks
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up blood
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
TB treatment is very effective although medication needs to be taken without fail for a period of six months. Not taking your medication regularly as prescribed could lead to relapses and to the development of drug-resistant TB strains, such as MDR or XDR/TB, says Dr Maslo. “Though there is a decrease in the number of patients who default on their treatment, the number of drug-resistant TB cases has continued to increase in South Africa and elsewhere in the world. Such cases are not only more difficult to treat but also much more costly. Treatment of drug-resistant TB could take more than a year. Patients have to be hospitalised for a period of approximately six months during which time they need to be kept in isolation to prevent the spread of drug-resistant TB,” she adds.
Dr Maslo advises those exposed to TB or experiencing any of the symptoms associated with the disease to seek medical advice as soon as possible. “People infected with TB may spread the disease to as many as 10 to 15 people through close contact. This often happens well before the diagnosis is made.
Dr Maslo advocates that prevention is always better than cure and offers the following tips to reduce your risk of becoming infected with TB:
- Apply cough etiquette at all times. Always cover your mouth when coughing and direct all coughs away from other people. You should wash your hands regularly to help ensure that germs don’t spread from one person to another during physical contact.
- In healthcare settings, ensure that a TB infection control plan is in place and that regular screenings of TB are done among health workers.
- If you are living with HIV, ask your healthcare provider about the use of isoniazid preventive therapy (IPT), a preventative course of treatment used to stop the development of TB in people with HIV regardless of their CD4 count or antiretroviral treatment.
For more information about the free TB screenings or TB, members of the public are invited to contact their nearest Medicross centre, Pharmacross or Prime Cure clinic, or e-mail email@example.com.
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Prime Cure and Medicross Family Medical and Dental Centres
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney or Monique Vanek
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org