Health Depts. Emphasize New Tuberculosis Risks, Symptoms

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Monday is World Tuberculosis Day, and local health departments are working with the CDC to help better educate families of new TB risks--including the recent spreading of drug-resistant strains of the disease.

Guilford County reported 19 active cases of TB in 2013 and 18 of North Carolina's total 211 cases in 2012.

According to a new study from U.S. health statisticians from Brigham and Women's Hospital's Global Health Equity, as many as one million children each year become infected with TB, but only a third of those cases are ever diagnosed.

The Guilford County Department of Public Health said the new drug-resistant strains of TB should not develop into a major threat in North Carolina. "North Carolina has been very proactive, and even has laws mandating that individuals with TB have to take their medicine," said Guilford County Department of Public Health registered nurse Surrie McNeill. McNeill further explained cases in which people become resistant to TB drugs often stem from their failure to take the full dosage of their medicine.

In 1980, North Carolina ranked third in the U.S. for having the most cases of TB (1066). In 2012, North Carolina was 29th and had 211 cases. The data for 2013 will not be released until May.

The CDC says TB is an airborne disease, spread by breathing in TB bacteria emitted into the air by someone with TB who coughs or sneezes. TB is unable to be spread by shaking someone's hand, sharing food or drink, touching bed linens or toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes or kissing. Individuals are more inclined to contract the disease if they are HIV infected or work in a close-contact environment in which people are more likely to have the disease--like a homeless shelter, jail or prison. Those who live in or travel to the Middle East also are more susceptible to get TB.

A blood or skin test is necessary for TB detection. McNeill stressed there is a difference between TB infection and TB disease. TB infection, called latent infection, is when TB bacteria gets into the person's body. It makes him or her sick only if the TB bacteria becomes active, multiplies and develops into TB disease. Early detection and treatment of TB infection can prevent the infection from becoming the disease. TB disease is treated by medications taken for six to nine months, or longer.

Common symptoms of TB include productive coughing longer than three weeks, blood-tinged sputum, unexplained tiredness, unexplained fever, significant weight loss and severe night sweats.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms or who is concerned he or she has been exposed to TB can contact his or her local health department.

Guilford County Dept. of Public Health -- 336-641-3256 and visit the website for additional information.


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