Coughing: How do you know if you have TB?

So, you’ve been coughing for a few months now and sweating at night… even your friends are saying you’ve lost some weight and should go for a TB test. TB is very common in South Africa, but fortunately it can be prevented and treated. Here’s what you need to know.

Preventing TB:

a) By the BCG (TB) vaccine:

  • In countries where TB is common, the BCG forms part of the national childhood immunisation programme
  • It’s generally used to offer children protection against TB
  • It’s not used to interrupt the spread of TB from one adult to another

b) By preventing the spread of infectious TB from one adult to another. This is done by:

  • Identifying people with active TB early on, and
  • Treating them promptly with medication

TB is spread by airborne droplets, especially in crowded spaces. Here’s what you can do to prevent the spread of TB:

  • Ventilate the house/room properly
  • Cough, sneeze or laugh into a tissue and throw it away in a sealed plastic bag
  • Wash your hands after coughing or sneezing
  • Sleep alone in your own room
  • Do not attend school or work until a healthcare worker has declared it safe to do so
  • Avoid close household contact with children under 5 years old
  • Take all TB medication correctly for the correct length of time
  • Go for regular follow-ups and tests, to check if the TB medication is working and to see if it’s still infectious
  • Avoid crowded places

Tests for TB:

Deciding if a person has TB or not, depends on many things:

  • Symptoms suggestive of TB
  • A clinical suspicion of TB in a patient (by a trained healthcare worker)
  • TB screening tests such as:
  1. Microscopy (examination of stained sputum smears under a microscope)
  2. Culture (sputum culture of the TB organism; a process which takes longer)
  3. PCR-based tests/molecular testing
  4. Other tests including: chest X-ray, tuberculin skin test, blood culture, ultrasound, histological examination of tissue, amongst others
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Treating TB:

The most important aspect of treatment is to take the correct medication for the correct length of time.

  • TB drugs – the essential TB drugs are given in different combinations according to different treatment regimens
  • Some TB drugs are bacteriocidal (killing action), bacteriostatic (sterilising action) or have the ability to prevent resistance
  • The most common drugs are: isoniazid, rifampicin, pyrazinamide, ethambutol, streptomycin
  • Other TB drugs are used in specific circumstances
  • Some additional drugs include steroids and Vit B6

Common side effects of TB drugs include:

  • Joint pains
  • Nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps
  • Burning, numbness or tingling of feet (and hands)
  • Orange/red discolouration of urine
  • Skin rash or itching

If you’d like more information about TB or TB medication, please chat to our doctors on the Hello Doctor app.