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The world has been so focused on the coronavirus pandemic that we forget that there are other epidemics still plaguing the nation.

On World TB Day, EB Inglis turns to Professor Thomas Scriba, Deputy Director of Immunology and Laboratory Director at The South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative, to shed light on the current state of TB in the country.

How has COVID-19 impacted TB sufferers in South Africa?

Based on current evidence, it looks like those who have active TB disease, are slightly more susceptible to develop severe covid disease. About double, based on the figures that I've seen. And those are people who are already sick with TB.

Professor Thomas Scriba

There's an enormous population of South Africans who are infected with the TB bacillus but they are not sick. And in those individuals, it does not look like the risk is higher.

Professor Thomas Scriba

I think of greater concern is that the lockdowns and the fear that people have of contracting covid if they are actively moving around or if they present to healthcare clinics, this has resulted in massive underdiagnosis of TB.

Professor Thomas Scriba

In other words, people are not turning up... when they feel sick, and so the number of people we are diagnosing with tuberculosis has dropped. This does not mean that people have less TB, it almost certainly will mean the opposite...

Professor Thomas Scriba

What steps are being taken to ensure that TB patients come out to receive treatment or get diagnosed?

It's absolutely critical that those who have a TB diagnoses get their antibiotics treatments and continue their treatment otherwise they will get sick again.

Professor Thomas Scriba

Not enough is being done. The first thing we can do is just get the message out that it is extremely important to go to clinics if you think you may have TB.

Professor Thomas Scriba

One issue is that there is overlap between the symptoms of TB and covid and people might think... I've got covid, let me get a covid swab and then the incorrect test is being done.

Professor Thomas Scriba

It's critical to say that those who have night sweats, fever, weight loss, all the typical TB symptoms actually get tested for TB.

Professor Thomas Scriba

Listen to EB Inglis' full chat with Professor Thomas Scriba in the audio clip below.

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Photo by Annie Spratt / unsplash

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