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Your Covid-19 questions answered

I have TB — am I at greater risk of catching Covid-19?

Kyle Zeeman Digital Editor
The WHO advises that TB patients continue to take their treatment as given by a doctor, and adhere to all health safety protocols such as social distancing, wearing a mask and sanitising. Stock photo.
The WHO advises that TB patients continue to take their treatment as given by a doctor, and adhere to all health safety protocols such as social distancing, wearing a mask and sanitising. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Diego_cervo

While studies on the effects of Covid-19 on tuberculosis (TB) patients are limited, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says it anticipates people ill with both are at greater risk of severe infection, especially if TB treatment is interrupted.

“Older age, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are linked with more severe Covid-19 and are also risk factors for poor outcomes in TB.”

It said Covid-19 and TB show similar symptoms such as a cough, fever and difficulty breathing.

“Both diseases primarily attack the lungs and though both biological agents transmit mainly via close contact, the incubation period from exposure to disease in TB is longer and often with a slow onset.”

The organisation advises TB patients to continue to take their treatment as given by a doctor, and adhere to all health safety protocols such as social distancing, wearing a mask and sanitising.

It said there is no evidence the Bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccine (BCG) against TB protects people against infection with Covid-19.

“Clinical trials addressing this question are under way, and WHO will evaluate the evidence when it is available. In the absence of evidence, WHO does not recommend BCG vaccination for the prevention of Covid-19. WHO continues to recommend reserving BCG for neonatal vaccination in settings with a high risk of tuberculosis.”

A paper by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in May last year found the lockdown restrictions reduced the numbers of TB testing and services. It said this needed to be addressed, and a combined strategy against both TB and Covid-19 needed to be adopted.

“The implications of undiagnosed TB are serious and will compromise past successes in reducing the burden and mortality associated with TB and DR-TB. As both TB and Covid-19 share similar clinical presentation and are transmitted through respiratory droplets and aerosols, a combined strategy needs to be applied. This would utilise resources effectively while providing both short and long term benefits.”


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