Double vulnerability: Miners with silicosis at risk of TB infection Dr Kavenga

Catherine Murombedzi

Health Correspondent

Tuberculosis (TB) is airborne and is caused by a bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis. Since it is airborne, everyone is at risk of acquiring the disease.
TB primarily affects the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body.

“TB spreads through airborne droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks,” said Dr Fungai Kavenga, Deputy Director in the Department of TB Prevention and Control in the Ministry of Health and Child Care.

“The microbaterium settles in the lungs as latent TB. The immune system is able to fight through latent TB.

“With latent TB, one does not get ill. However, when immunity is compromised, the latent TB is able to spread to become a disease. When this happens, one may cough for three or more weeks producing phlegm.

“One may feel chest pains or discomfort, fatigue and experience weight loss,” said Dr Kavenga during an editors and station managers’ two-day workshop in Chinhoyi.

The workshop is a capacity development program organised by the National Aids Council (NAC).

Dr Kavenga highlighted that everyone is at risk of contracting TB, although more males suffer from TB when compared to their female counterparts.

“TB is an opportunistic infection and every time one person gets ill, the disease gets an opportunity to wake up from the latent state to become active.

“However, there are people who are at high risk of getting TB infection. These are people with compromised immune systems, those living with HIV and those who have diabetes and other co-morbidities.

“People who work in hospital are also at risk of infection.

“Age is also a risk factor for the under fives and senior citizens over 65 years as these groups have weakened immunity,” said Dr Kavenga.

“Prisoners, those in refugee camps, compounds and huge gatherings are more at risk when compared to the general population.

“All contacts to TB patients should be screened because of the risk to exposure,” said Dr Kavenga.

Contacts are people who have come in contact with a TB patient, especially before treatment commenced.

“A patient is no longer infectious after successfully taking treatment for two weeks,” he said.

Miners are also among the risk groups.

“Miners and ex-miners are at risk due to silicosis. Family members of current and former miners are at risk from exposure.

 

Dr Kavenga explained how silicosis can increase the risk of developing TB.

“When silica particles accumulate in the lungs, they can cause inflammation and damage to the lung tissue, thereby making it more susceptible to TB infection.

“Studies have shown that people with silicosis are at a higher risk of developing TB, particularly if they are exposed to TB bacteria.

“The risk of developing TB is even higher if the person has a weakened immune system or has had previous exposure to TB.

“The link between silicosis and TB is due to impaired lung function. Silicosis can damage the lungs, thereby making it harder for the body to fight off infections like TB.

“Silica particles can cause chronic inflammation in the lungs, which can increase the risk of TB infection.

“It is, therefore, essential for people with silicosis to be screened for TB and to receive regular monitoring and treatment if they are exposed to TB bacteria.

“Among the prevention strategies we have tuberculosis prevention therapy (TPT),” said Dr Kavenga.

TPT is now shorter than the previous six months.

3HP is a three-month weekly regimen of isoniazid and rifapentine.

3RH is given as a three-month daily regimen of isoniazid and rifampicin.

Prevention is better than cure.

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