Tuberculosis (TB) causes thousands of deaths every year in South Africa and the rest of the world. World TB Day, falling on March 24th each year, is designed to build public awareness that tuberculosis today remains an epidemic in much of the world, causing the deaths of nearly one-and-a-half million people each year, mostly in developing countries. The theme for 2021 is ‘If we want to #EndTB by 2030, #TheClockIsTicking to reach the #TBTargets2022 ‘.
TB is an increasingly common condition. While TB is treatable, it is potentially life-threatening. Therefore, in joining forces and fighting TB it is important to know how to prevent TB infection.
Can you prevent TB?
Tuberculosis (TB) is a life-threatening infection that primarily affects your lungs. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), TB kills around 2 million people worldwide every year. The infection is common – about one-third of the human population is infected with TB, with one new infection occurring every second around the globe.
Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease spread by tiny germs that can float in the air. The TB germs may spray into the air if a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, shouts, or sneezes. Anyone nearby can breathe TB germs into their lungs.
While experts suggest that you cannot “catch” TB from sharing drinking glasses, bedclothes or eating utensils, it is important to remember that the TB bacilli can survive out of the body for two to three hours. Theoretically, if a TB-infected person coughed onto a fork and you used that same fork ten minutes later, it may be possible for the germ to be transmitted to you.
Left untreated, TB can be fatal. With proper care, however, most cases of tuberculosis can be treated, even those resistant to the drugs commonly used against the disease.
Yes, it is preventable: Tuberculosis is generally a preventable disease. From a public health standpoint, the best way to control TB is to diagnose and treat people with the infection before they develop active disease and to take careful precautions with people hospitalized with TB. There are also measures you can take to help protect yourself and others:
Get tested regularly – Experts advise getting a skin test annually if you have HIV or any other disease that weakens your immune system. If you live or work in a prison or nursing home, are a health care worker or a school teacher, you may have a substantially increased risk of exposure to the disease.
Keep your immune system healthy – Make sure you eat plenty of healthy foods, get enough sleep and exercise regularly to keep your immune system in top form.
Consider preventive therapy – If you test positive for latent TB infection – meaning you have the infection but without symptoms – talk to your doctor about therapy that can reduce your risk of developing active TB in the future. A vaccine is available that has been of some benefit in preventing TB.
Finish your entire course of medication – This is the most important step you can take to protect yourself and others from TB if you are being treated for the disease. When you stop treatment early or skip doses, TB bacteria have a chance to develop mutations that are resistant to the most potent TB drugs. The resulting drug-resistant strains are much more deadly and difficult to treat.
Wash your hands often – Especially if you have been around people with chronic coughs, or if you have TB.
Wear a mask – A special, high-microfiltration mask will keep the TB bacilli from invading your respiratory system if you are at high risk or if you have TB and want to prevent its spread.
Stay at home – Don’t go to work or school or sleep in a room with other people during the first few weeks of treatment if you have active TB.
Ensuring ample ventilation – Open the windows whenever possible to let in fresh air.
Cover your mouth – It takes two to three weeks of treatment before you’re no longer contagious. During that time, be sure to cover your mouth with a tissue any time you laugh, sneeze or cough. Put the used tissue in a bag, seal it and throw it away – or flush it down the toilet, then wash your hands. Also, wearing a mask when you’re around other people during the first three weeks of treatment may help reduce the risk of transmission.
You can help prevent the spread of tuberculosis by following the steps provided here, and ensuring that family and friends know what steps to take, too.