11 December 2008

HIV and Tuberculosis: The scourge of Africa

Tuberculosis (TB) is the most serious and most common opportunistic infection that attacks HIV-infected people, especially in Africa.


Tuberculosis (TB) is the most serious and most common opportunistic infection that attacks HIV-infected people, especially in Africa. It is estimated that approximately 52% or more of the HIV-infected people in Africa are co-infected with TB. It is the most common cause of death in Aids patients because it is reactivated by the failing immune system. TB accelerates HIV disease and is responsible for 32% of all HIV-related deaths in Africa.

Because HIV and TB frequently occur together in Africa, it is vitally important to be well informed about TB, to recognise the symptoms and to get treatment.

A person with TB can spread the disease while merely talking, coughing or sneezing. If a susceptible person inhales the droplets thus emitted, he or she may become infected.

The symptoms of pulmonary (lung) tuberculosis are:

  • fever with chills
  • night sweat
  • weight loss
  • loss of strength
  • a persistent productive cough with purulent sputum
  • anaemia
  • the coughing of blood

TB is treatable, but it is important to take every dosage of medication for as long as it is prescribed – six to eight months. For more in-depth information on tuberculosis, read this A-Z on tuberculosis.

Take home point: Remember the fine balance between the CD4 cell count, the viral load and disease progression.

An HIV positive person should do everything in his or her power to keep the immune system as healthy for as long as possible (in other words: to keep the viral load as low and the CD4 cell count as high as possible).

Keep your CD4 cell count as high as possible with:

  • a healthy lifestyle (rest, exercise)
  • stress management and positive living
  • a healthy, balanced diet
  • supplements and immune-boosters
  • avoiding the use of recreational drugs, alcohol abuse and smoking
  • routine visits to the doctor or clinic - for early treatment of opportunistic infections
  • antiretroviral therapy

December 2004


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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