What is Tuberculosis?


What is tuberculosis? What causes tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis, sometimes referred to as TB, is a disease caused by an organism called mycobacterium tuberculosis. These bacteria can attack any part of the body, but they most commonly attack the lungs, because it is easier for them to flourish there.

What are the symptoms of tuberculosis?

Symptoms of tuberculosis depend on where in the body the TB bacteria are active. Tuberculosis bacteria often multiply in the lungs, causing pulmonary tuberculosis.


Pulmonary tuberculosis may cause;

  • a bad cough that lasts longer than two weeks,
  • pain in the chest,
  • coughing up of blood in the sputum,
  • night sweats,
  • lack of appetite,
  • leading to weight loss,
  • and general weakness/fatigue.

Inactive TB has no symptoms.

How is tuberculosis treated? Is there a cure?

Active TB can always be cured with a combination of antibiotics, providing that the TB has not become multi or extremely drug resistant. Treatment options depend on the country you are in. The normal course of treatment for the first infection of pulmonary TB lasts for six months. After one week of treatment the TB is no longer contagious.

To ensure total  compliance, it is often recommended that the  patient takes his or her pills daily in the presence of a treatment supporter. This approach is called DOTS (directly observed treatment, short course). This approach has helped to improve the cure rate drastically.

DOTS supporters are trained by representatives of the SANTA National secretariat. The National office also provides TB education to companies. However they do not supply direct assistance to TB patients.

How is tuberculosis spread?

Active TB or TB disease means the bacteria are active in the body and the immune system is unable to stop them from causing illness. People with active TB in their lungs can pass the bacteria on to anyone they come into close contact with. When a person with active TB coughs, sneezes or spits, people nearby may breathe in the tuberculosis bacteria and become infected. Left untreated, each person with active TB can infect between 10 and 15 people every year on average.

People who have in active TB do not feel sick, do not have symptoms and do not spread tuberculosis. The TB bacteria can remain in the body for a lifetime without becoming active. People with inactive TB are called TB carriers.

TB may become active if a persons immune system  becomes weakened – due to HIV/AIDS for example, although there may be other reasons for their immunity to be compromised, such as severe stress, poor nutritional intake and lack of exercise, as well as excessive use of drugs or alcohol.