World TB Day is Recognized in Tennessee

Sunday, March 19, 2006 | 06:00pm

Cases Increase Significantly For the First Time Since 1996

Nashville, March 20, 2006

This Friday, March 24, has been designated as World TB Day to raise awareness, knowledge and motivation for action against tuberculosis (TB) worldwide. TB kills approximately two million people worldwide every year. Limited access to healthcare services, the spread of HIV/AIDS and the emergence of multi-drug resistant TB are contributing to the worsening worldwide impact of this disease.

In 1993, the World Health Organization declared TB a global public health emergency. The World Health Organization estimates that by 2020, approximately one billion people will be newly infected, 150 million will get sick with active TB disease and 36 million people will die of TB if control is not strengthened worldwide. Currently, only 20 percent of the TB cases in the world are detected and treated successfully.

TB remains a significant public health concern in the United States and Tennessee. Approximately 15,000 people develop active TB each year in the U.S., almost 300 of which are in Tennessee. After nearly a decade long decline in reported TB cases in Tennessee, 298 active cases were reported in 2005, an eight percent increase from the 277 cases reported in 2004.

“Considering this increase of TB in our state, it is critical that this treatable, curable and preventable disease be recognized as a major public health concern,” says Health Commissioner Kenneth S. Robinson, M.D. “Those who are at high risk for TB must get tested to prevent further spread of this highly contagious disease.”

The Tennessee Department of Health recommends that individuals who are at high-risk for TB have a skin test to find out if they have TB infection. Persons at high-risk for TB include individuals born in countries that have high rates of TB, those with HIV infection and AIDS, those who have close interactions with TB infected persons, homeless persons, people who have spent time in jail or prison and intravenous drug users. Local health departments across the state offer free and confidential testing, as well as treatment.

“Many of our TB patients face complicated social and health issues, such as homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, HIV/AIDS and other immunosuppressive conditions, which can make it difficult for patients to receive immediate medical attention and a correct initial diagnosis of TB,” says State TB Control Officer Jon Warkentin, M.D. “If a TB patient is not isolated and treated immediately, the risk of infecting others increases, adding to the population of individuals who may go on to develop active TB in the future.”

TB disproportionately affects individuals from countries with high rates of TB, like Mexico, Somalia and India. In recent years, over 50 percent of all active TB cases nationwide reported being born in a country other than the U.S. Compared to Tennessee residents born in the U.S., residents who were born in countries with increased rates of TB are seven times more likely to have active TB. Of the 298 cases reported in Tennessee in 2005, 21 percent were foreign-born, an increase of 30 percent from 2004.

TB usually affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, kidneys or spine. Symptoms of TB present in lungs include a persistent cough for three or more weeks, chest pain and coughing up blood. Other general symptoms of active TB include feelings of sickness or weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats. If active TB is not treated quickly and appropriately, the disease can be fatal.

“TB disease can almost always be cured, but catching the disease early and starting treatment promptly is critical,” said Warkentin. “The longer treatment is delayed, the harder the disease is to treat and the more people are exposed.”

In the late 19th century, TB killed one out of every seven people living in the United States and Europe. In 1882, Robert Koch, M.D., announced the discovery of the tuberculosis bacillus. A century after Dr. Koch’s announcement, the first World TB Day was sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IUATLD), intended to educate the public about the devastating health and economic consequences of TB, its effect on developing countries, and its continued tragic impact on global health.

To learn more about TB in Tennessee visit the Department of Health’s Web site For a list of health departments statewide, please visit

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