The importance of TB treatment during pregnancy

Untreated tuberculosis (TB) during pregnancy poses a significant threat to both mother and child.

According to the Donald Gordon Medical Centre, South Africa has the 5th highest burden of TB in the world with more than 880 new TB infections each day and close on 1.5-million people dying from the disease every year.

“A woman’s health is more important than ever during pregnancy. By taking care of your own health, your baby is taken care of as well”, says Dr Howard Manyonga, head of The Birthing Team, an affordable maternity care programme available in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban.

ALSO SEE: Your guide to antenatal checks

What is TB?

Tuberculosis, also known as TB, is a contagious infection that usually attacks the lungs. It’s caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB can also spread to other parts of the body like the brain and spine.

According to WebMD, a TB infection doesn’t mean you will get sick as the disease takes two forms:

  • Latent TB where you have the germs in your body, but the immune system stops it from spreading, which means you don’t have any symptoms and you’re not contagious. However, the infection is alive in your body and can become active any day.
  • Active TB, which means the germs multiply and can make you sick, and you’re also contagious.

Read more about the two types of TB here.

Symptoms of tuberculosis

 According to WebMD the symptoms for active TB include:

  • A cough that last for more than three weeks
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Night sweats
  • Chills and fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

Treating TB when you’re pregnant

Midwives and doctors stress the importance of adhering to TB treatment during pregnancy, because newborns can also contract the disease via the infected mother’s placenta. Treatment options during pregnancy consist of several oral drugs as well as injectable agents, depending on the susceptibility of the bug. Women are also encouraged to take vitamins, including B6 supplements, to ensure the foetus receives the necessary vitamins and to prevent drug-related side effects.

“Many consider the treatment of TB dangerous during pregnancy, but it’s far more hazardous if left untreated,” says Dr Howard. “It’s important to be screened for TB early in your pregnancy. If tuberculosis is suspected, be completely transparent with your healthcare professional regarding your diagnosis.”

ALSO SEE: 3 important screening tests every mom-to-be should know about

The total treatment time can take up to nine months and it’s important to consult with medical professionals postpartum regarding the continuation of treatment, if necessary, and how it will affect nursing infants.

More about The Birthing Team

The Birthing Team, supported by healthcare management company PPO Serve, provides affordable private maternity care to women who are uninsured. Their all-inclusive fee covers all necessary scans, tests, medication, services and assessments based on their patient’s first consultation at 12 weeks of pregnancy. Screening for TB will be done in this initial assessment. The programme’s focus on antenatal care and patient education ensures that the mother-to-be will be given the treatment best suited to the situation.

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