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Six things to know about tuberculosis in Alabama

A freshman at Homewood High School was recently diagnosed with tuberculosis, and employees with the Jefferson County Department of Public Health offered tests for the illness today. The disease isn’t very common anymore, so here are some of the facts about the bacterial disease.

1. Anyone can get tuberculosis. Some populations may be more susceptible to the illness, but tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted through the air. Anyone who has had contact with a patient with active tuberculosis can get the disease. Public health officials often find more tuberculosis cases among homeless people and prisoners, but cases also crop up in schools and other parts of the community. Young children and those with HIV are at increased risk for infection because they have weakened immune systems, said Dr. Karen Landers, Assistant State Health Officer for Tuberculosis Control.

You can go to jail if you refuse treatment for tuberculosis

2. Most tuberculosis patients in Alabama don’t come from other countries.Only 19 percent of the confirmed tuberculosis cases over the last few years occurred in patients who recently immigrated or spent time overseas, Landers said. That’s significantly lower than the national average. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that the vast majority of tuberculosis cases occurred in Asians and Hispanics, and that most patients had been born overseas.

3. The number of tuberculosis cases increased last year in Alabama, but decreased nationwide. Across the nation, the number of new infections decreased by more than 2 percent. In 2014, there were 133 cases of tuberculosis in Alabama, compared to 108 the year before. The numbers have decreased substantially from 258 in 2003, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

4. You can have tuberculosis, but not have tuberculosis. The latent form of the disease does not cause symptoms and isn’t contagious. “Just because you have a positive test for TB, if you have a normal chest x-ray, you do not have TB,” Landers said. Patients with latent tuberculosis can receive drugs to eradicate the infection, but they are not counted as tuberculosis cases by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Most tuberculosis patients in Alabama don’t come from other countries

5. You can go to jail if you refuse treatment for tuberculosis. State law requires a medical professional to watch a tuberculosis patient take his medication. If the patient refuses treatment, he can be sent to jail, Landers said. This law is rarely invoked, but Landers said she has had to use it on patients who do not want to comply with months of antibiotic treatment. Treatment typically last six to nine months, and patients who do not finish treatment can develop drug-resistant strains that are more difficult to treat. Landers said a handful of multi-drug resistant strains have appeared in Alabama, but they are not widespread.

6. Tuberculosis is a serious disease – but it’s treatable. Public health agencies have a long history with tuberculosis and routinely investigate cases and outbreaks. “TB control is what we do at the Alabama Department of Public Health,” Landers said. “We do this on a regular basis.” Still, 536 people in the United States died from tuberculosis in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By: Amy Yurkanin, Source

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