TB in prison may have damaged Madiba’s lungs

2013-06-16 14:00

President Nelson Mandela’s recurring lung infection may be explained by the conditions in which he was kept in prison.

Mandela was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) in 1988 while incarcerated at Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town. It is not clear whether he had pulmonary TB, which affects the lungs and often leaves the lung tissue scarred.

Two local pulmonologists told City Press this week that if Mandela had this type of TB and the effects were severe, it may have damaged his lungs.

Professor Guy Richards of Wits University said: “If Mandela’s lungs were damaged by TB it could mean the damaged tissue has been colonised with bacteria, which makes him vulnerable to recurrent infections.”

Professor Umesh Lalloo, former dean of the Nelson Mandela Medical School at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, shared this view.

He explained: “Most patients are completely cured of TB but a long-standing infection may damage the lung architecture, thus reducing the ability to cope with future lung infections.”

But he cautioned that this was mere speculation, “because Mandela’s doctors are the only people who can tell you the truth”.

The presidency and Mandela’s family have been tight-lipped about the cause of his recurrent lung infection since his admission to Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria a week ago.

They have only issued statements saying that he was in a serious but stable condition.

Many have speculated that he has pneumonia, for which he was treated in April. Pneumonia is a common lung infection among the elderly but if it recurs and the patient has no history of lung damage, it could spell trouble, according to Richards.

He explained: “It could mean the patient has aspiration pneumonia, which results from inhaling foreign material, usually food, liquids, vomit or secretions from the mouth into the lower airways and causes inflammation of the lungs.”

“This type of pneumonia is common in people who have suffered a stroke and find it difficult to swallow,” he said.

While the guessing game continues, Mandela is reportedly responding well to treatment.

What is pneumonia?

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