Tennessee observes World Tuberculosis Day

From Staff Reports

   Today has been designated as World TB Day in order to promote awareness, knowledge and motivation for action against tuberculosis worldwide. Each year, two million people die from TB and someone in the world is newly infected with the disease every second.
   There were 313 reported cases of tuberculosis in Tennessee in 2001, a decrease of the 18.5 percent from the previous year. Although tuberculosis rates are at an all-time low in Tennessee, they still remain the highest in the nation and the percentage of cases occurring in foreign-born persons immigrating to Tennessee remains high.
   Fifty percent of U.S. cases and 14 percent of Tennessee cases last year occurred in foreign born persons. From 1986 to 2000 the number of TB cases among foreign born persons in the U.S. increased by 53.4 percent from 4,925 cases to 7,554 cases, but the number of people who are infected is actually much higher. People who are infected with TB bacteria but do not have the disease are not ill, do not have symptoms and cannot spread the infection to others. They could, however, develop active disease at anytime.
   Immigrants from high TB prevalence countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Russia are much more likely to be infected with TB and they may develop active contagious disease once they are in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least seven million foreign born persons in the U.S. are infected with TB and that two out of three percent will develop the disease unless they complete medication to stop the progression to active disease.
   "The Tennessee Department of Health recommends that people at a high risk for TB have a skin test to find out if they have TB infection," said Dr. Allen Craig, State Epidemiologist. Persons at a high risk for active TB in Tennessee are those with HIV infection, AIDS close contacts to an active case of TB, homeless persons, incarcerated individuals, and intravenous drug users.
   The Department offers free screening and testing for high risk individuals in an effort to identify people who are infected with TB and provide treatment to prevent them from becoming ill. The tests are available at all county health departments and all information is confidential.
   People who have been vaccinated with BGG, a vaccine for TB often given to infants and small children in other countries where the disease is common, also need to have a skin test because they still could have the TB infection. Many of the people have been told that they should not get skin tested, but this is not correct according to the most current information.
   If TB is diagnosed, drug treatment will be needed to cure the disease. The drugs are also provided free of charge by the health department. "TB can almost always be cured, but catching the disease early and starting treatment promptly is important," Craig said. "The longer treatment is delayed, the harder the disease is to treat and the more people are exposed."