TB: Seek treatment early

Catherine Murombedzi HIV Walk
Tuberculosis can be treated if one seeks treatment early. However, many people go undiagnosed or receive treatment for other diseases thereby progressing the TB infection. Julius has been seeing his doctor for the past six months. He has taken a plethora of medicines with no marked improvement. He has lost weight drastically. The doctor then suggested that he takes an HIV test which came out negative.
“I have not been well for some time and have been seeing my private doctor. I find it difficult to walk any distance, even a kilometre, as I have a shortness of breath. When I lost weight drastically my doctor suggested that I take an HIV test. The results came out negative and this even caused me more confusion.

Everyone was hinting that with the weight loss I could be HIV positive, so in a way despite the confusion of my health I am glad that I am HIV negative,” said Julius.
Julius said that his doctor had first treated him for a chest infection and then later on for pneumonia.

“I got some antibiotics since my doctor diagnosed a chest infection. I took the whole course and got slightly better. However, a month later I was feeling double the effects I used to feel. He therefore put me on a stronger dosage which did not work out this time,” said Julius.
Julius said that he had an X-ray taken as the doctor then suspected TB.

“I had an X-ray taken as the doctor now suspected that I had TB. The results did not conform to TB of the chest so that was ruled out. That is when the doctor put me on treatment for pneumonia,” he added.

Pneumonia is a lung infection that makes one very ill. A person with pneumonia can cough, have a fever and have difficulty in breathing.
Pneumonia can be treated without the patient being hospitalized as was the case with Julius. It usually clears in 2 to 3 weeks.

“A friend of mine who works in South Africa came to see me. He was worried that I had been on pneumonia treatment for a month and was not getting better. He said that he suspected I had TB to which I said no,” he said.

“My friend told me that TB may not be detected through an X-ray and in most cases saliva has to be taken early in the morning,” said Julius.
Julius’ friend advised him to go to the local clinic as they were better placed to diagnose TB.

“My friend told me that it was likely that I had TB despite the fact that the X-ray was clear. He drove me to the clinic the next day in the morning. I told the nurse my history and she concurred that it could be TB but needed to be confirmed by tests,” Julius said.

‘I was given three bottles and told to collect sputum at three different stages, the first being in the morning before I took any food,” he said.
“I was asked to take three deep breaths in the morning before taking any food and told to force up some sputum by coughing deeply.

“The sputum was taken to the laboratory where they said the sample was abnormal. I had bacterial infection and the culture of the sputum was TB positive, implying that I had tuberculosis,” he said.

“To say that in four days the nurse had diagnosed the cause of my illness was a relief is an understatement. At least I could now be treated correctly,” he said.
TB is a contagious lung disease that spreads through the air. Even speaking spreads the TB germs known as bacilli.

Only a small number of the bacilli need to be inhaled to cause an infection. However, not all people infected with TB bacilli will become sick. The immune system either kills the germs, or “walls off” the TB bacilli where they can lie dormant for years. Left untreated, each person with infectious TB will spread the germs to about 10 to 15 people every year.

Julius said that he did not react badly to medication.
“I had heard stories that TB drugs make people sick. I was very ill but after 2 weeks I got better. I had lost appetite and was glad that I could eat all the foods I had stopped eating. I am glad my friend took me to the clinic,” said Julius.

TB is treated free of charge at all clinics and central hospitals. TB is not treated at private doctors, if any doctor diagnoses a patient with TB they refer that patient to the government hospitals.

All TB cases are recorded and the patient is monitored. If a patient defaults, the hospital usually finds out and make a follow-up.
More men report at hospitals late as compared to women. Women tend to seek treatment early.

If TB is left untreated it can be fatal. Not all people with TB cough.  They may have night sweats, a fever, high temperature, loss of weight and lack of appetite.
Luckily for Julius he was not HIV positive as HIV and TB have been found to have a co-relation. Julius said that he is going to take another HIV test in three months’ time to be certain that he is negative.

“I was told that there is a window period where the HIV may be undetected so I will take another test in three months’ time. In the meantime, I am glad that I have gained 5kg and am on the road to recovery,” he said.

TB is passed through the air hence it is important that windows are opened every day.
If there is someone on TB treatment, the person is no longer infectious 72 hours after commencing treatment. The person is however, highly infectious before starting treatment.

Chipo, my cousin who works for a catering firm, said she was concerned with the way we crammed into a single room especially at funerals.
“I am concerned my sister with the way we conduct traditional funerals. We are packed in the single room with closed windows and with people coughing such places tend to be the sources of TB infection, I am just thinking,” she said.

Nutritional support is important for someone on TB medication. Risk factors for TB are low socio-economic status, living in a crowded place, migrating from a high TB burden area and a weakened immune system.

At the workplace during this cold weather windows are usually closed to avoid a breeze but this is unhealthy. Make it a point to open windows when in a public area so that air flows freely.

TB is not only found in the lungs but can also be found in the lymph nodes, genito-urinary tract, joints, gastro-intestine walls or the spinal code.
So get tested for TB when you get complications in your health, better still go to a clinic, they handle far many cases of TB and are in a position to quickly identify TB. TB is far more difficult to diagnose in infants as compared to adults.

Since TB is normally diagnosed through sputum culture infants are not able to cough out sputum as required. A special test of the skin is used. This is called Mantoux test and the results are better.

Children usually get TB infection from their parents and if a parent is on TB treatment everyone in the house must be screened for TB.
Many people now associate TB with HIV. True the majority of TB patients have a weakened immunity but as seen in Julius case he was HIV negative.

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  • Mandayemabwe

    Recently the President was quoted recommending compulsory HIV testing for all people – that way people know their status and hopefully do take action to manage life better based on test results. I would like to think there are families that have spent large sums on n’anga when the correct diagnosis is HIV/AIDS. There must be ways for the Ministry of Health to increase HIV testing, disclosure to patients and intervention.