Tuberculosis (TB)

What is TB?

TB is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium. While these bacteria can attack different organs, lung tuberculosis (consumption) is the most common form. TB symptoms include tiredness, lack of appetite and coughing.

How do people get TB?

The bacteria are released into the air by patients with lung TB. People with lung TB are only capable of infecting others during the contagious stage. These patients cough up bacteria from their lungs which are then transmitted through the air. An individual inhaling the same air may then become infected with TB.

What happens when somebody has TB?

Not everybody infected with TB gets sick right away. People in poor health are likely to get sick. Others may feel fine for years. Some people never get sick at all, even though they are infected. As soon as somebody is diagnosed with lung TB, everybody with whom he or she has been in touch needs to be contacted and examined for TB. Everybody infected with TB needs to be treated with medication. People who are not ill (but have been infected) are treated as a precaution against becoming ill later on. TB medication needs to be taken for an extended period. People who stop taking the medication before finishing the treatment may go on to develop the disease after all.

Further treatment then becomes far more complicated in such cases. In the early stages of their treatment, people with lung TB must be isolated to avoid infecting others. After a few weeks they are no longer contagious and can interact with others once again.

Avoiding infection

Because TB is spread by coughing and sneezing, putting your hand in front of your mouth and turning away from others is important. You should also turn the other way when others cough in your direction.

Symptoms of Tuberculosis

The main symptoms of TB are:

  • Protracted coughing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of weight
  • Night sweats and fever
  • Coughing up blood
  • Pain in the chest that lasts longer than three weeks.

If you or a cellmate has similar symptoms, an urgent doctor's consultation is necessary. It will usually consist of giving a sputum sample, which is then examined under the microscope. The availability of mycobacteria in the sputum means that the person has an active form of TB, and therefore will need anti-tuberculosis medication for at least six months.
In order to avoid catching TB or infecting others:

  • Cough in your hand or a handkerchief.
  • Don’t spit the sputum everywhere - use a handkerchief or napkin.
  • Air your cell regularly - particularly if it is overcrowded.
  • Try to eat well, and if possible consume plenty of vitamins, fresh fruit and vegetables to improve your immunity.
  • If these symptoms appear, contact a doctor immediately.
  • The sooner treatment begins, the better the outcome will be.