Tuberculosis is still one of the deadliest infectious diseases in the world today. Health officials have made its eradication a top priority and have made significant progress elsewhere around the globe and in the United States. While the numbers are encouraging and going down in most places, there were an increased number of tuberculosis cases in New York City and Los Angeles County last year.
Nationwide, tuberculosis rates fell to an all time low in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that fewer than 9,600 cases of TB were reported in 2013, which is a decline of 4.2 percent over the prior year. More than half of the 9,600 were in four states – California, Florida, New York and Texas – and case numbers increased in New York City and Los Angeles County.
TB is a contagious, but treatable, disease that attacks the lungs and is spread when someone with TB coughs, sneezes or spits. Being infected does not mean someone will come down with the disease. An estimated one-third of the world’s population has latent TB bacteria in their system. The latent kind shows no symptoms and is not contagious. Approximately 10 percent of those with TB bacteria eventually fall ill, and often those are people who smoke, have HIV, are diabetic or have other health issues. The initial symptoms may resemble a cold or flu, which can delay seeking treatment and result in passing the infection to others.
The CDC notes that a disproportionate number of cases in the U.S. are among foreign-born people, who are believed to have arrived with the infection in their system. The other population where the disease is prevalent is among the homeless. These populations are the reason tuberculosis cases are up in New York and L.A.
In New York City, the number of cases reported in 2013 was 656, a slight increase over the previous year but a reversal in a decade of steady declines. Most of the people who became infected in the area were immigrants, with the highest concentrations in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and Flushing, Queens.
In Los Angeles County, TB cases rose 7 percent in 2013 to 666. Like other areas, 79 percent of the cases were in immigrants, but the big concern is the cases among the homeless. According to public health officials, 65 cases of TB were reported among the homeless last year.
The CDC, county health workers and staff supporting public homeless shelters are trying to coordinate efforts to reach the homeless population and treat the before they expose countless others to the disease. At issue is the fact that homeless people live in crowded conditions and move about often. Treatment for TB can take six months to a yearlong regimen of several drugs. If the medication is not taken correctly, the TB can become resistant and harder to treat.
On a national level, there is improved screening of immigrants. The CDC reports that twice as many cases are identified and treated among immigrants before entering the country than had been done before. In spite slight up swing in cases in New York and L.A., they hope to continue reducing tuberculosis in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.
By Dyanne Weiss