'My battle with TB three times that saw my lobe removed'

George Irungu, a TB survivor from Nyandrua County who has battled TB three times

Photo credit: Margaret Kimathi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • I would wake up every morning to sheets soaked with sweat.
  • I lost weight every day. I remember that I weighed 64 kilos before I got sick, but when TB recurred, I dropped to 50 kilos. 

"My name is George Irungu and I am 37 years old. I am a pharmaceutical technician at North Kinangop Catholic Hospital in Nyandarua County.

I have battled tuberculosis three times. I was first diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis in 2005 when I was in secondary school. I started treatment in August 2005 and finished after six months. I was tested and found to be free of TB. However, due to remnants of previous infections, I contracted the disease again in 2022.

My symptoms were a persistent cough that lasted for a month, night sweats, fever, general weakness and loss of appetite.

At first, I was in doubt. I was tested again and the diagnosis was confirmed. I was given the standard six-month course of TB medication. After finishing the medication, I was tested to confirm that I was free of TB. Six months later the symptoms came back. The TB test was negative, but the cough would not go away.

I was so scared. I remember sweating profusely on my bed. I would wake up every morning to sheets soaked with sweat. I lost weight every day. I remember that I weighed 64 kilos before I got sick, but when TB recurred, I dropped to 50 kilos. 

There was that fear of infecting my children and my colleagues at work. My contacts were screened and tested and they went for X-rays and they were found to be negative for TB infections. 

A Computed Tomography (CT) Scan was conducted and showed that my lungs had cavitation, small holes in the lungs. Further tests were conducted and I underwent a lobectomy, a surgery to remove one of the lobes of the lungs. 

The infected lobe was removed to prevent the infections from spreading to the other lobes. There were still remnants of TB bacteria in my lungs and I had to restart the treatment again because it was not clear whether the remaining parts of my lungs were clear of the TB. Now this was the third time.

The lungs have sections called lobes. The right lung has 3 lobes. The left lung has 2 lobes. A lobectomy may be done when a problem is found in just part of a lung.

After undergoing lobectomy, my journey towards recovery was a difficult one. After a piece of my lungs was removed, breathing became difficult for several months. I used to exercise a lot to improve my general health.

So far, I have experienced full recovery. I can run, swim and I can properly function post TB treatment. 

When I contracted TB in 2005, I was in denial, which I attribute partly to the stigma associated with the disease. 

My family got worried when they learnt I had TB. They thought it was a bad disease which was untreatable. Some people associate the condition with other diseases like HIV/Aids or sexually transmitted infections. Others insinuated that I was cursed.

My aunt told me, "oooh you have TB? That's a very bad disease. Ooh noo." 

I urge members of the public to go for TB screening in the nearest health facilities and for those on TB treatment to complete medication so as to get cured. 

I would also like to urge my fellow health workers to go for routine TB screening as well as actively screen patients when they visit the facility.”

Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Kenya is among 30 high TB burden countries in the world.

Pulmonary tuberculosis affecting the lungs, is the commonest form of TB causing a distinctive cough. Apart from Pulmonary tuberculosis, the bacteria can also cause TB of the bladder, spine, skin, brain and even the heart. But there are types of TB in which individuals don’t experience such symptoms that is; latent TB. In this case, one’s immune system fights the bacteria and the disease is not transmissible.

On January 21, the Ministry of Health National TB Programme in collaboration with Centre for Health Solutions-Kenya through its USAID-funded Tuberculosis Accelerated Response and Care II (TB ARC II) and other partners launched a plan to combat tuberculosis in Kenya.

The plan, dubbed National Strategic Plan for Tuberculosis, Leprosy and Lung Health is a five-year (2024-28) strategic plan that aims to ensure quality care for TB, leprosy and lung diseases for all Kenyans.

Public Health and Professional Standards Principal Secretary Mary Muthoni raised concern about what she termed as the scourge that is TB. The PS said that the ministry is committed to further reducing the cases of TB reported in a year by 2030. 

In 2022, Kenya reported a total of 90,841 TB cases, an increase compared to the 77,854 cases reported in 2021. In the same year, 17,000 people died of TB. 

Kenya recorded a 32 percent decline in TB incidence and a 42 percent mortality reduction between 2015-2020. 

“Alarming as this figure is, it represents only 68 percent of the estimated 133,000 TB cases that were likely to emerge that year, leaving 32 percent undiagnosed and untreated,” the PS said.

However, Muthoni regretted the emergence of drug-resistant TB cases, totaling 756 cases last year, which highlights the urgent need for a comprehensive and coordinated response. 

“The strategic plan does not only acknowledge the existing challenges in TB control but also proposes practical interventions to address the root causes of these barriers,” she said, identifying partnership and accountability as the key pillars towards a united front in this battle. 

An estimated 10.6 million people fell ill with TB across the globe, including 5.8 million men, 3.5 million women and 1.3 million children according to the World Health Organisation.