March 19, 2009
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Tuberculosis (TB) cases in Contra Costa County increased by 55% in 2008, according to recent data released by Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS). Public health officials are trying to raise awareness about TB and prevent its spread by urging anyone who might be at risk to get tested.
The data is released annually for World TB Day, which is March 24. The number of new TB cases in Contra Costa jumped from 51 in 2007 to 79 in 2008. The numbers for California as a whole will be released March 23. Dr. Charles Crane, Medical Director of the CCHS Tuberculosis Program, said the data should be a grim reminder for physicians, families and others of the ongoing battle against tuberculosis.
"If you have the symptoms of TB you should see a doctor right away. And if you notice someone who has the symptoms of TB you should encourage them to see a doctor right away," Crane said. "If a person waits to be treated, they may become very sick and even more contagious."
Crane said typical TB symptoms include a persistent cough, fever, night sweats, and unintended weight loss. TB germs are spread through the air. According to the World Health Organization, TB is a worldwide pandemic and people of all ages and ethnicities can contract the disease.
Anyone can get TB, but certain people are at a higher risk. People with conditions that affect their immune systems, such as HIV, diabetes or cancer, and people who are homeless, who use street drugs, or who have been in prison or jail are at higher risk.
The increase in 2008 ends an almost constant decline in Contra Costa from the previous 12 years. In 1996, there were 117 reported cases of TB in Contra Costa. As in past years, health officials said, the largest portion of cases in 2008 was people who got infected before coming to the United States.
"Roughly 70% of all new cases in Contra Costa County involve people born outside of the United States. Because we do not have regular contact with this population, it is hard to screen them for TB," Crane said. "People who come to the United States need to be tested so they can receive an early diagnosis and get the treatment they need."
In West County, there were 39 reported cases, which accounted for almost half of all cases in the county. There were 22 reported cases in East County and 18 in Central County.
Francie Wise, Chief of the Communicable Disease Program at CCHS, said a loss of focus has contributed to the rise in cases last year. "A severe outbreak of TB in 1987 caused people to pay attention," Wise said. "We need to regain focus at all levels: local, state and federal."
Further information about TB is available online at www.cchealth.org/topics/tb/
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