TB & COVID-19, what you need to know

In June 2020, the Western Cape health department released data stating that people with TB have a two to three-fold increased risk of dying of COVID-19. 

The department also found that just over half of COVID-19 deaths were due to diabetes. In contrast, about one in 10 fatalities from the new coronavirus were due to being HIV positive and 2% were due to having active TB 

So what does this mean for you if you have TB? We sat down with Dr Bongile Mabilane, QI Lead for Anova and Public health practitioner to talk about what impact COVID-19 has on people with TB.  

In simple terms, what is TB? 

TB stands for Tuberculosis. An infection caused by a resilient bacteria called Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. This bacteria is a rod-shaped organism that can live in harsh exterior conditions. Once a person gets infected by this bacteria, they can either present with ‘Active TB Disease’ or they may have ‘Latent TB’Both of these issues/presentations need medical treatmentLastly, many people think that TB is only a problem to the lungs, but it can infect and stay almost anywhere in the body (a situation called Extrapulmonary TB) 

What impact does COVID have on people who already have TB? 

Studies conducted here in SA and other African settings are revealing that people with active TB or those that had TB just recently are in a higher state of risk to have the more severe types of COVID. This is because COVID infections tend to destroy the very lung pockets that TB also destroys. So if TB has already done some damage, the pathology turns for the worse when COVID comes in that very same person. 

The best way to protect this from happening is to exercise all the stringiest measures against COVID, that is, wearing masks, washing hands properly and frequently as well as exercising social and physical distancing by staying home and leaving only if you have to. Prevention is key for these patients and if they do get COVID, early medical care is needed 

Those with active TB disease need to be taking their treatments faithfully to avoid relapse or complications. 

If someone who has TB catches COVID, are their recovery process different to someone who doesn’t have TB? 

There are a lot of studies going on to test how different this could be. This is partly also determined by our limited knowledge of the various strengths and strains of COVID circulating in our society at the moment 

The recovery process is expected to be the same if its mild COVID but might be strained and delayed if a TB patient gets the severe forms of COVID  

Some research shows that people with an underlying illness are at a higher death risk than those who haven’t. Does this apply to people with TB?  

Yes this includes TB as well. Another important observation about people who get TB is that a proportion of them do have other underlying illnesses like: HIV/AIDS, Diabetes, Autoimmune Diseases, Vit D deficiencies, Malnutrition, high stress levels etc. This then places an extra burden on one person to cope with if they happen to get COVID as well. Because COVID is a Respiratory illness, the free space in our lungs that ensures normal breathing might be compromised if COVID and TB co-exist 

If I have TB, what measures can I take to protect myself from contracting COVID-19? 

The best approach is to try by all means to prevent COVID by exercising all the non-medical interventions put in place: the proper and consistent wearing of masks, washing hands effectively using clean water with soap and sanitizing with high alcohol-based solutions, social and physical distancing by staying indoors/home and leave only for essential things 

If you are out, (working), then you need to keep the rooms well ventilated, open windows and doors for fresh air to circulate. Avoid air conditioners or heaters in a closed area. Guard your nutrition by staying hydrated and well boosted all throughout the day. Take your treatment as scheduled and look out for any side effects. 

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