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South Africa’s biggest killer

Tuberculosis, or TB, as people say, is a very dangerous sickness. Ten people die from TB every day in South Africa. And no-one knows how many people have TB.

150 years ago very few people in South Africa had TB. Doctors say TB spread when the mines began. Many miners came to South Africa from England. Many of these miners had TB.

The English miners worked closely with the black miners. So the black miners got TB from them. Then these mineworkers took TB to their families in the homelands.


*Germs TB is spread by tiny things called germs. Many people have TB germs in their bodies, but they do not have TB. You only get TB if your body is weak.

*Bad food Your body gets weak if you do not eat good food. If you only eat pap and white bread, your body will get weak.

*Hard work Working hard also makes your body Weak. People who work long hours and people who do not sleep enough will have weak bodies.

*Too many people TB germs go from one person to another. So, when many people live together in small houses, TB spreads quickly. You can even get TB on crowded buses and trains if your body is weak.

*Not knowing about TB Many people with TB do not know that they have TB. So, they do not go to the doctors. And they can give TB to everyone near them.


If you have TB, you will have these signs. *A cough that will not go away *You will not feel like eating *A pain in the chest *You will feel sick and hot in the afternoons and you will have a fever at night. *You will feel weak and tired *You can also cough up blood.


Most people get TB in their lungs. The TB germs make big holes or sores in your lungs. Then you cannot breathe well. You feel tired and sick. You cough a lot.

But you can also get TB in other parts of your body. Some people get TB in their bones, or in their brains.


If you think you have TB, you MUST go to the doctor. The doctor will take some skin. Or they will take a photograph (XRay) of your lungs. They will test your skin for TB germs, and check your lungs for sores. These tests are free.

You must also be careful. TB spreads. You must try not to cough near anyone, or spit. This is how TB germs get out of your body into other people’s bodies. You must not let anyone use your handkerchief.


The doctors will give you injections and pills. You have to take the pills for nine months. These pills are free. Once you start to take the TB pills, no-one can get TB from you.

You must take the pills for nine months. If you stop the pills before nine months, you will get TB again. But then your TB will be harder to cure.

You must eat well and rest a lot while you take the pills. You must eat things like eggs, milk, fresh vegetables, meat, and brown bread.

Even when you are better, you must look after your body well. If your body gets weak, you can get TB again.


If someone in your house has TB, everyone must go to the doctor, especially the children. The doctor will test everyone for TB. The person with TB must not sleep with the children — children’s bodies are weak because they are still growing.

Long ago, people with TB stayed in hospitals so that they did not spread TB. Today people still think that people with TB are dangerous. But as long as the TB people take their pills, they are no danger.

You must protect your children against TB with a BCG injection. If your baby is born in a hospital, the hospital will give the baby a BCG. But if your baby is born at home, you must take your baby to the clinic before it is one month old.

The BCG will not stop TB altogether. If your child gets weak, then he or she will still get TB. But your baby will not get TB badly.


Taking pills against TB only helps the person with TB. But if many people have TB, it means that too many people are too poor. Drugs do not stop TB — drugs only cure it. TB will only stop when people have enough to eat and when they have better houses.


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