World Tuberculosis Day: 8 Fast Facts

Millions of South Africans may already have latent Tuberculosis (TB), making awareness, early detection and proper treatment crucial for saving lives. Today – 24 March – marks World TB Day and South Africans should take note that anyone can catch TB, but that the disease is preventable and, in most cases, treatable,” says Novartis South Africa.

 It’s vitally important that people understand the disease, the risks, and why they have to complete their prescribed treatment,” says Dr. Chris Nathaniel, Medical Head – Specialty Care: Southern Africa at Novartis SA. “By not being tested for TB or delaying treatment or not completing their prescribed treatment, people put themselves and those close to them at risk.

 This year, World Tuberculosis Day has themed ‘It’s time and calls for stepped up efforts to reduce the incidence of TB around the world.

8 Tuberculosis Facts

TB is a leading cause of death

Tuberculosis (TB) is the leading cause of death in South Africa, with 22,000 deaths from TB and 56,000 deaths of people with both HIV and TB in 2017 alone (1). In addition, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that 322,000 people in South Africa had active TB in 2017.

South Africa is one of the countries with the highest tuberculosis burdens in the world and was among only eight countries accounting for a total of 66% of the new TB cases in the world in 2017. Globally, TB is the top infectious killer and one of the top ten causes of death, causing 1,6 million deaths worldwide in 2017.  In 2017, there were an estimated 10 million new TB cases reported worldwide, of which 5.8 million were men, 3.2 million were women and 1 million were children. People living with HIV accounted for 9% of the total. 

Up to 80% of South Africans could be infected with TB bacteria


About one-quarter of the world’s population has latent TB, which means people have been infected with TB bacteria but are not (yet) ill with the disease and cannot transmit the disease. In South Africa, up to 80% of people could be infected with TB, and the highest prevalence of latent TB, estimated at 88% has been found among people in the age group 30-39 years old living in townships and informal settlements. TB disease, or active TB, is when a person with latent TB starts to show symptoms. Overall about 5 to 10% of people with latent TB, who do not receive treatment for it, will develop active TB at some time in their lives (2).

You could have latent TB and not know it for years

Latent TB may progress to active TB only years after infection, when a person’s immune system is compromised due to other causes, such as HIV, diabetes, and chronic renal failure.

A cough is not the only symptom of TB

The symptoms of TB depend on which area of the body has been infected. If someone has pulmonary disease – TB in the lungs – then they may have a persistent cough or chest pain, they may cough up blood or phlegm and they may also experience weakness or fatigue, weight loss, lack of appetite, chills, fever and night sweats.

TB can affect other parts of the body besides the lungs, resulting in symptoms such as enlarged lymph nodes, bone, and joint pain, vomiting, severe headache, a dislike of light, neck stiffness and seizures, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bleeding from the rectum, or blood in the urine. In children, TB may also cause failure to thrive or weight loss.

TB is airborne

TB is spread from person to person through the air. When people with lung TB cough, sneeze or spit, they propel TB germs into the air. According to WHO statistics, a person needs to inhale only a few of these germs to become infected.

One person with active TB can infect up to 15 others a year

When a person first develops active TB disease, the symptoms (such as cough, fever, night sweats, or weight loss) may be mild for many months. This can lead to delays in seeking care and results in the transmission of the bacteria to others. People with active TB can infect 10–15 other people through close contact over the course of a year.

Failing to finish the course of TB treatment causes worse forms of TB

TB treatment usually involves a 6-month course of medication. However, many people choose to stop taking their medicines as soon as they start feeling better. This can cause the remaining bacteria in the body to adapt and become resistant to drugs. Once a person has drug-resistant TB or multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB), a course of new drugs, or combinations of drugs, must be administered. The resistant strains of TB can be transmitted to others, making the simplest treatments ineffective. Extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) is a form of TB resistant to at least four of the core TB drugs.

TB treatment is available

Active and drug-susceptible TB disease is treated with a standard 6-month course of 4 antimicrobial drugs. The vast majority of TB cases can be cured when medicines are provided and taken properly. Globally, the treatment success rate for people newly diagnosed with TB was 82% in 2016, and effective TB diagnosis and treatment saved 54 million lives globally between 2000 and 2017.

Who Is The Author?

Novartis is a leading global medicine company that uses innovative science and digital technologies to create transformative treatments in areas of great medical need. In their quest to find new medicines, they are consistently ranked among the world’s top companies investing in research and development.