SABC News - Health workers fear contracting TB after death of colleague:Tuesday 23 December 2014

Health workers fear contracting TB after death of colleague

Tuesday 23 December 2014 17:25

Dries Liebenberg

Health care workers still run enormous risks when dealing with TB.

Health care workers still run enormous risks when dealing with TB.(SABC)

The death of Durban doctor Nerissa Pather who was paralysed after contracting tuberculosis, is serving as a poignant reminder of the risk that doctors and nurses are exposed to.

While South Africa has made advances in fighting one of the highest TB rates in the world, the pandemic still strikes fear into the hearts of health care workers.

Pather contracted drug-resistant tuberculosis and meningitis while doing her community service at the King Edward the 8th Hospital and KwaMashu Poly Clinic in 2002.

The disease left her paralysed and suffering a range of excruciating side-effects which including agonising pain due to nerve damage, deafness and liver and kidney damage.

Pather passed away last week and was laid to rest on Monday.

KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC, Doctor Sibongiseni Dhlomo attended her funeral and saluted health professionals for putting themselves at risk to help those who seek help. He says that when a doctor gets infected, it is not “to do with poor infection control,” but “because we interact with them strongly.”

It’s terrible...because it's virtually a death sentence.

The vice-chairperson of the South African Medical Association, Doctor Mark Sonderup, says the news that health professionals have contracted tuberculosis still strikes fear in the hearts of doctors and nurses.

He says, "It’s terrifying because if the word comes back from the laboratory that you have drug resistant tuberculosis, the next
question is: do you have extremely drug resistant TB. Because it's virtually a death sentence."

Sonderup says since recording the first extremely drug resistant cases in 2006, South Africa has made progress in the fight against
TB. However Sonderup notes that not all hospitals and clinics have the correct isolation facilities. He points out, "the whole issue of the prevention of the spreading or development of drug-resistant tuberculosis goes far beyond just a mask."

According to Sonderup, the risk health care workers are running, is still enormous. In the past few months two doctors Sonderup works with at a Cape Town hospital contracted drug-resistant tuberculosis.

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