TB and why you need fresh air in the taxi or bus

Western Cape  Minister of Health Nomafrench Mbombo speaks to commuters in Cape Town about the Open the Windows Campaign to fight TB. (Supplied)
Western Cape Minister of Health Nomafrench Mbombo speaks to commuters in Cape Town about the Open the Windows Campaign to fight TB. (Supplied)

To mark World TB Day, commuters in Cape Town are the focus of a campaign to help curb the spread of tuberculosis (TB), which is one of the leading causes of deaths in South Africa.

World TB Day (WTBD) is commemorated annually on 24 March and the 2015 campaign theme is Reach. Treat. Cure Everyone.

As part of this, Minister of Health in the Western Cape, Nomafrench Mbombo and Minister for Transport and Public Works, Donald Grant, launched the Open (the) Windows Campaign at Cape Town station on Monday.

The need for enough fresh air

With millions of people using public transport daily in the province, creating awareness about opening windows is crucial especially since TB is an airborne disease.

TB is an infectious disease that is caused by a germ that attacks and damages the lungs. It can be easily passed to others.

Read: Exciting new MDR-TB drug to be tried in South Africa

When an infected person coughs, sneezes or spits saliva onto the ground, the germs are spread into the surrounding air and remain there for a long time. If you inhale that air, you can breathe in the germs and get infected.

Mbombo said the launch was specifically designed to take the message of preventing the spread of TB directly to people who are public transport users.

"This is why MEC Grant and I targeted people getting on and off taxis, buses and trains, speaking to them about the importance of opening windows in public transport so to create adequate ventilation and help prevent the spread of TB," said Mbombo.

Going back to the basics

She said the campaign is an attempt to take the fight against TB ‘back to basics’, adding that it is a cost-free initiative that everyone can adopt.

"All the districts in the Western Cape have been tasked with placing emphasis on TB prevention. This entails the use of natural ventilation, wearing of masks in high risk areas and observing cough etiquette."

Mbombo pointed out that the provincial government is working hard to roll-out TB treatment. However, she said the next phase of this fight must be centred around prevention, wellness and emphasising the responsibility of citizens to keep themselves healthy. "This is why the Opening (the) Windows Campaign is important as a first step."

Read: Is TB spinning out of control in South Africa?

Last year, the incidence of drug-sensitive TB, which is the most common form of TB, was approximately 629 new cases per 100 000 of the Western Cape population. "We have successfully treated 87.1% of those that were infected. However, we can no longer focus our efforts only on curative measures. We need to bring down the number of people contracting the disease dramatically."

Mbombo said she is working with the Department of Transport and Public Works on a plan to spread the word in all public transport platforms across the province.

Image: Western Cape Minister of Health Nomafrench Mbombo speaks to commuters in Cape Town about the Open the Windows Campaign to fight TB. (Supplied)

What are the early symptoms of TB?

- Persistent cough for more than two weeks
- Unexplained weight loss
- Drenching night sweats
- General feeling of illness or fever for more than two weeks

Where you can get tested for TB

You can get free testing at your nearest clinic.

Testing for adults is done by taking two sputum samples and the results are normally available after two to three days. Testing for children are done using skin tests and chest X-rays.

How TB treatment works

TB treatment is free at clinics and is in two phases. The first is an intensive phase and the second phase is the continuation phase.

First-time TB clients must be treated for six months, while patients who have had TB before must take TB medicine for eight months. If there are side effects from the medication, the patient must return to the clinic.

Children with TB are given different medicines and treated for four months only. To try and prevent TB, babies should be immunised with the BCG vaccine, which is available free of charge at all primary healthcare clinics.

Also read:

New drug available for TB patients

Drug-resistant TB remains a crisis

TB crisis in SA mines

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