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Why aren’t we in lockdown for TB?

Tuberculosis is still one of South Africa's top killers. Shouldn't our nation be put under lockdown to curb its spread instead?
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The current number of deaths for people dying from or with COVID-19  in South Africa stands at 138, with a total of 7,220 confirmed cases1.

When you compare the number of confirmed cases to the number of people in your neighbourhood, town or city, it seems intimidating.

The city closest to where I live has a population of 312,3922. If 7,220 people had COVID-19, that would be 2.3% of its population. That might constitute a disaster worthy of a city-wide lockdown.

But let’s see what COVID-19 looks like when it goes toe to toe with one of the world’s biggest killers: TB.

I sourced the data from the WHO—the World Health Organization—as well as other global entities.

I used the year 2018 for all data. It seems to be the latest accurate data for TB.

The WHO labels COVID-19 a pandemic and TB an epidemic3, but what does the data reveal?

Let’s place the dictionary definitions of these two nouns at the outset of this article so we’re all on the same page.

epidemic (noun)
an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time : an outbreak of epidemic disease
“Epidemic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 May. 2020.

pandemic (noun)
an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population : a pandemic outbreak of a disease
“Pandemic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 May. 2020.

Now let’s get to the facts.

How many people die from or with TB?

Tb Is The Top Infectious Killer In The World, According To The Who
The WHO says TB Is The Top Infectious Killer In The World.

The WHO reports that, in 2018, 1,5 million people died of TB globally4.

2018 had 365 days, like most years.

That means 4931.5 people died of TB every day.

The WHO calls TB the leading infectious killer in the world.

How many died in South Africa?

To zoom in on the data I downloaded the Global TB Report app (available for Android5 and iPhone6).

The app claims that eight countries accounted for two thirds of global TB cases in 2018. One of those countries was South Africa.

In 2018, South Africa had a population of 57,73 million7 and there were 301,000 cases of TB. (Of those, 177,000 were HIV positive.)

How many South Africans died of TB?

21,000, or 0.036% of the population, or 57.5 per day.

The first COVID-19 case in South Africa was a man, diagnosed on 5 March, 20208.

It’s been 61 days since the first COVID-19 incident.

For COVID-19, that’s a death rate of 2.2 people per day.

If the 2018 TB numbers can be projected onto 2020, 3507.5 people died of TB in the same time 138 people died of or with COVID-19.

Over the same period the COVID-19 death toll is 3.9% that of South Africa’s TB death toll.

Even if COVID-19 deaths were more than 20 times higher it would still not touch TB. And TB’s been around much longer than COVID-19.

Is TB contagious?

TB and the Coronavirus are not the same thing. TB is a bacteria; the Coronavirus is a virus.

But both TB and COVID-19 are contagious. In fact, they spread in similar ways.

How does TB spread?

According to the CDC9:

The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with active TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. You cannot get TB from

  • Clothes
  • Drinking glass
  • Eating utensils
  • Handshake
  • Toilet
  • Other surfaces

It’s important to note that carrying TB does not necessarily mean you have TB disease. If your immune system is strong enough it can fight off TB10.

How does COVID-19 spread?

The following explanation is from the WHO website11:

People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease spreads primarily from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are expelled when a person with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, or speaks. These droplets are relatively heavy, do not travel far and quickly sink to the ground. People can catch COVID-19 if they breathe in these droplets from a person infected with the virus.

Is TB deadly?

The CDC says the following in the lede of their article titled, “Tuberculosis (TB) Disease: Symptoms and Risk Factors”12:

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by bacteria that are spread through the air from person to person. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.

Do people recover from TB?

You can recover from TB, as stated by Medline Plus13:

Most people recover from primary TB infection without further evidence of the disease. The infection may stay inactive (dormant) for years. In some people, it becomes active again (reactivates).

And drug-resistant TB?

As for drug-resistant TB, this is what the CDC says14:

Treating and curing drug-resistant TB is complicated. Inappropriate management can have life-threatening results. Drug-resistant TB should be managed by or in close consultation with an expert in the disease.

Even though people recover from TB, it’s clear that it’s a dangerous disease, especially the drug-resistant kind.

Why not flatten TB’s curve?

Many people argue that the lockdown and social distancing are having the desired effect, which is flattening COVID-19’s curve.

But if these measures work for curbing COVID-19’s spread, why didn’t our government start locking down and flattening the curve for TB decades ago?

The numbers prove that TB is a deadly disease.

A look at TB’s timeline15 from 1990 to 2004 suggests that most places could have used some curve flattening decades ago.

Evolution Of Incidence In Tb Cases
Evolution Of Incidence In TB Cases.

But the novel Coronavirus is new, so…

Surely the novel Coronavirus should be treated differently because it’s a new virus and we don’t know the destruction it’s capable of.

But we DO know what TB is and what it can do.

Yet, despite our knowledge of TB and how deadly it is, we don’t have lockdowns because of it.

In closing

Is it fair to elevate the Coronavirus to the status it’s been given when there’s a deadly disease that’s been destroying lives for much longer?

Does it make sense to lock down entire countries (which in some cases shatters the economy) because of the Coronavirus?

Why were (and are) these measures not taken for TB?

Or could it be that there’s something more sinister lurking behind the Coronavirus?

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  1. Google News[]
  2. Census 2011[]
  3. Global tuberculosis report 2019[]
  4. Global Tuberculosis Report 2019[]
  5. TB Report Android app[]
  6. TB Report Apple app[]
  7. Mid-year population estimates 2018[]
  9. Exposure to TB[]
  11. Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19[]
  12. Tuberculosis (TB) Disease: Symptoms and Risk Factors[]
  13. Pulmonary tuberculosis[]
  14. Drug-Resistant TB[]
  15. Timeline of tuberculosis[]
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Someone also asked this very same question in Fb just a few days ago! No-one seemed to take it seriously. We have an attitude of follow my leader regardless! We have been intimidated to such an extend that we’d rather keep our mouths shut and comply with these draconian rules and regulations! I don’t foresee any positive changes to this lockdown for quite a while. In fact, these regulations are being used to intimidate the whites and to those who don’t believe the fact that funds are being used for certain colours poor people because they fear for their own… Read more »