If your cough doesn’t go away easily, it could be TB


If you have been having a persistent cough for more than three weeks, seek prompt treatment, since you could be suffering from tuberculosis (TB).

Tuberculosis is a serious bacterial infection that mainly affects the lungs, though it can also affect other parts of the body such as the bones, glands, and the nervous system.

It is easily transmitted through breathing in microscopic droplets from the lungs and throat of people with active TB when they sneeze, cough, spit, laugh, or speak. You only need to breathe in just a few of these microbes to get infected.

Those who smoke, as well as those who are malnourished or have a weakened immune system due to illnesses such as HIV, are at a greater risk of developing TB because their bodies do not have affective defence against the TB bacteria.

TB is preventable, curable, and treatable within six months by strictly following a course of antibiotics.

Dear Doc,

My roommate has been coughing a lot and I am getting concerned. Could he be having TB? Also, what are the other symptoms of TB?


Dear JK,

TB normally develops gradually, therefore symptoms may not show until weeks or months after infection.

A person with active TB may have a persistent cough that lasts three or more weeks, coughing up phlegm or blood, chest pain, pain when coughing or breathing, fever, tiredness, breathlessness that worsens with time, weakness, night sweats, unplanned weight loss, and loss of appetite.

Since TB infection can occur outside the lungs, other symptoms may appear depending on the part of the body that is infected. For example, one may have joint or bone pain if the infection has affected the bones and joints. It is therefore important to see a doctor should you experiences these symptoms. Tests such as the sputum test will be performed to determine whether you have TB or not.

Dear Doc,

What is the difference between latent TB and active TB?


Dear Aisha,

Latent TB means that a person has TB infection, but the bacteria is inactive and causes no symptoms. Latent TB is usually not contagious, meaning that a person cannot spread the infection to others.

If left untreated however, it can develop into active TB, especially if the immune system is weakened. It is therefore crucial to get treated for latent TB if you test positive to prevent it from progressing to active TB, when you can transmit it to others.

Active TB means that the bacterium is already active in the body, and the person has signs and symptoms of TB. This person can easily spread the infection to another.

Dear Doc,

When is it necessary to get tested for TB?


Dear Donald,

There are various factors that can compel one to get tested for TB. These include having TB symptoms such as a persistent cough for two or more weeks, being in close contact with a person who has, or is suspected to have TB, is infected with HIV or any other illness that weakens the immune system, or abuses injectable drugs. You should also get tested if you live, or have visited a country or places where there is a high risk of tuberculosis, such as refugee camps, nursing homes, or prisons.

Dear Doc,

I am currently on TB treatment. What measures should I take to avoid spreading the infection to others, especially my family?


Dear GG,

It is good that the infection has been detected and that you are on treatment. It usually takes a few weeks of taking TB medicines before you can be declared not contagious. While on treatment, there are some steps you can do keep your loved ones, friends, and public from falling sick:

Stay within well-ventilated places. TB germs spread easily in congested rooms where there is no sufficient air circulation. Keep windows open and turn on the fan when necessary.

Cover your mouth with a tissue every time you cough, sneeze, or laugh, and dispose it right away.

Stay away from school or work during the first few weeks of treatment.

Sleep in a separate room from others during this time.

Ensure you finish the whole course of medication. Skipping doses or stopping treatment can give TB bacteria a chance to mutate and survive the strongest TB medicines. This can lead to drug-resistant strains of TB which are more fatal and complex to treat.

These questions have been compiled by Dr Torooti Mwirigi and the panel of DN2 Health Professionals. Have a question about your health? Send your health questions to nation@askadoc.co.ke