Nelson Mandela: Reoccurring Lung Infection and TB History


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TB from a lung biopsy. Photo by KGH

TB from a lung biopsy – tuberculosis is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. Photo by KGH

Nelson Mandela was admitted to the hospital due to a reoccurring lung infection, which makes this the third time in four months he has had to be hospitalized. The 94 year old former President of South Africa has struggled with lung infections since he contracted tuberculosis when he was in prison for 27 years.

What is TB, anyway, and why would it still be bothering Mandela after all these years?

What is TB? Tuberculosis Bacteria Explained

Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes pulmonary tuberculosis, also known as TB, and is highly contagious. In the United States, a total of 10,528 TB cases were reported in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Tuberculosis is also one of the deadliest disease in the world; according to the CDC, in 2011 there were 9 million TB cases worldwide and 1.4 million TB deaths.  Tuberculosis is also the leading killer in those with HIV.

Latent TB and TB disease

There are two forms of tuberculosis; latent tuberculosis infection and tuberculosis disease.

Latent TB: A person with latent TB infection does not have any symptoms, but does not have active tuberculosis either. The Mycobacterium tuberculosis germs are alive, but inactive; the only way you know if you have latent TB is when you have a positive result on the TB skin or blood test. If you have latent TB, you can’t infect others, but you’ll need special treatment to avoid getting the disease.

According to the CDC, “…without treatment, about 5 to 10% of infected persons will develop TB disease at some time in their lives. About half of those people who develop TB will do so within the first two years of infection.”

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