There’s a strong connection between HIV/AIDS and TB, predominantly in South Africa. Here’s why.
Medical staff across South Africa automatically test for Tuberculosis and HIV at the same time, and for good reason. The prevalence of both is extremely high. Every effort must be made to accurately diagnose patients, before educating and treating them appropriately. Informal settlement population density being on the rise means that South Africans can no longer ignore this issue.
What is HIV?
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is spread from person to person through the exchange of bodily fluids. If you are infected with HIV, the virus attacks your body’s white blood cells, also known as CD4 cells or T cells. Over time the virus destroys more cells, reducing your body’s ability to fight off infections and other diseases. Your immune system continually weakens, sustaining exponential damage, allowing opportunistic infections to take advantage.
HIV symptoms vary across the virus’ lifespan inside your body. These range from a light cold to extremely severe symptoms caused by opportunistic infections, just like Tuberculosis. Thanks to advancements in medical science HIV is now a treatable condition.
What is AIDS?
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. Twenty or more opportunistic infections (including cancers) take your body’s systems and organs hostage. As your immune system fails to fight off opportunistic infections, your health deteriorates at an increasing pace. This eventually leads to you succumbing to a multitude of ailments.
Access to antiretrovirals (ARVs) has become crucial in South Africa. Getting tested has never been more important for taking control of your life. Medical staff are trained at length on how to cope with HIV: medically; mentally; emotionally and spiritually. The quicker you move onto a treatment plan, and the more disciplined you are about sticking to it, the better your chances of living a long and healthy life.
What is TB?
Tuberculosis (TB) mainly affects your lungs (pulmonary TB), but can be found in almost any other organ. It can be contracted through the sneeze, cough or sputum (spit) of an infected person. Contracting TB doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop and display its symptoms, though. Although it’s highly contagious, you may not even know you’ve contracted it.
Latent TB occurs when TB bacteria remain dormant in your system. Symptoms don’t display and life continues as normal. An estimated 80% of South Africa’s population has latent TB, and will never experience symptoms. Sadly, people with a suppressed immune system are not as lucky. HIV patients fall into the more at-risk bracket. A suppressed immune system nearly guarantees that every opportunistic infection will result in symptomatic display, especially if HIV treatment is not adhered to.
What causes TB?
Unlike HIV, TB is a bacterial infection. Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, the bacteria, are contained in the bodily fluids primarily associated with spitting, coughing and sneezing. The bacteria settle in to destroy the soft tissue in your lungs. This leads to the development of holes in your lungs, which make it really difficult for you to breathe normally. Just like HIV treatment, though, TB treatment has also advanced substantially over the years.
Facts about HIV/AIDS & TB
- During 2017, more than 300 000 individuals were diagnosed and treated for TB in South Africa.
- Just over 60% of those individuals were also HIV positive.
How are HIV and TB connected?
TB is considered one of the most prevalent opportunistic infections to affect HIV patients in South Africa. Any HIV patient not actively adhering to ARV treatment is highly susceptible to the onset and severe symptomatic display of TB. An HIV negative TB patient is far less likely to experience symptoms because of an uncompromised immune system.
How are HIV and TB specifically connected in South Africa?
South Africa ranks sixth in the world for the highest infection rate of TB. Its prevalence is most extreme in densely populated areas lacking access to sewerage, drainage and service delivery: informal settlements. With staggering numbers of community members still trying to survive in such conditions, most HIV healthcare programmes also cater for TB treatment.
Joint treatment for HIV and TB
If you’re diagnosed as both HIV positive and a TB patient, you’ll immediately begin a ‘co-infection programme’. Treatment adherence is of utmost importance in such a situation because both infections need to be treated simultaneously. Medications cause chemical reactions which need to be closely monitored and carefully managed.
Don’t risk your health; stick to your treatment plan at all times
Taking the right medication in the correct order at the correct times is critical for successfully completing a co-infection programme. TB can very quickly become resistant to drugs if given the smallest opportunity (eg. taking your medication two hours late). Neglecting your treatment regimen can have devastating effects in a situation where HIV is also present in the body. When someone talks about treatment adherence, it means that you must stick to the exact guidelines around when and how to take your medication. This is extremely important and should become an essential part of your daily routine.
Did you know?
At AllLife, we help you stick to your treatment and checkup plans, by sending you regular reminders about your medication and when to attend your next medical appointment.
Failing to stick to a treatment plan often results in something called Extensively Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (XDR-TB). Regular medication no longer works; bacteria mutate and develop their own immune system to antibiotics. For TB to be passed along or contracted after this evolution has occurred can be deadly. It’s so severe that a second layer needs to be added onto the treatment plan to give you a fighting chance to overcome it. It takes a much longer to diagnose and confirm the bacterial resistance.
A regular TB treatment plan can take approximately six months to complete but an XDR-TB plan needs 18 months or longer. The resistance build-up of the bacteria can vary, thus impacting your treatment plan.
It’s not all bad news
Being HIV positive is no longer as scary as it used to be. Thanks to science and technology, you can live a long, happy and healthy life as an HIV patient. Every year, major breakthroughs are constantly being reported, inspiring hope across the world for an HIV vaccine to soon be developed.
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