Why diabetics and smokers are more at risk of TB

We’re all in danger of contracting tuberculosis, but having diabetes or smoking increases your risk. Here’s why.

21 August 2015
by Lori Cohen

Tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria that attacks the lungs, and less commonly your other body organs. You may have TB, but be unaware of it because the bacteria can lie dormant within your immune system. This is called a latent infection. While many people will become infected with TB, not all of them will develop the disease until their immune system becomes compromised – which is why TB is on the rise due to our country’s incredibly high HIV/Aids infection rates.

The diabetes connection

Medical practitioners have known for a long time that those suffering from diabetes also have an increased risk of contracting TB, and a new 20-year study by James Cook University in the US has added weight to this. The researchers have reported that people with diabetes are up to seven times more likely to contract TB, or develop the disease from a latent infection. This is because diabetes compromises your immune system.

The study recommends that diabetes sufferers are screened regularly for TB, including those with type 2 diabetes. About six percent of the population of South Africa suffers from a form of diabetes, with many others undiagnosed.

According to Dr Anil Kapur, of the World Diabetes Foundation, TB often goes undiagnosed in diabetics as the symptoms of both diseases can be similar, that is, loss of weight, tiredness, and malaise.

Another reason to quit smoking!

Smoking also depresses the immune system, so if you have a latent TB infection, you have a higher risk of becoming ill. “When nicotine enters the lungs it helps activate the latent TB,” says Peter Mabulane, community services manager for the South African National Tuberculosis Association (SANTA). It's reported that smokers are up to three times more like to develop latent TB infection than non-smokers.

Passive, or second-hand smoking, is also a concern. Your family has an increased risk of both TB infection and the development of active TB disease if they’re exposed to your smoke. “A child’s immune system is only fully developed after the age of five. This makes them particularly vulnerable to infection,” says Mabulane.

How to protect yourself

You’re unlikely to contract TB if someone you come into contact with has the latent condition or is currently receiving treatment for TB. However, you can be exposed to TB on public transport or in outpatient facilities, so avoid these, or wear a protective mask, and wash your hands regularly.

You can also look at ways to boost your immune system such as taking supplements and eating a healthy and balanced diet. Then there is the BCG vaccination, which protects you against TB. You will have received this shot at birth, but if you are diagnosed with TB ask your Clicks Clinic for a booster shot.

If you are a smoker, take steps to quit. The use of nicotine patches is very successful in helping you make the transition.

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Clicks Clinics will help you prevent, identify and manage diabetes with their wide range of screening tests and health assessments.

These include:

  • Glucose Screening with Consultation
  • Urine Test (tests for blood, protein and glucose)
  • Blood Pressure Test
  • Cholesterol Testing and Consultation
  • Lipogram Blood Test (to determine different types of cholesterol)
  • Foot Screening Consultation (to check for diabetes-related foot problems)
  • Clicks Full Basic Screening (BP, Body Mass Index or BMI, meal guide and exercise plan)
  • Clicks Screening Measurements only (BP and BMI)
  • Clicks Comprehensive Screening (BP, BMI, Glucose and Cholesterol screening, plus meal and exercise plan).

To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clicks Clinics online and the Clicks Diabetes Management Programme.

How Clicks can help you quit smoking

Clicks has launched stop-smoking service, GoSmokeFree​, at selected Clicks clinics.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

Read More: Diabetes Super Section