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Tuberculosis cases rise, but public health agencies say they lack the resources to keep up

Nada Hassanein, Stateline.org on

Published in News & Features

In Alaska, advocates and medical professionals have been pushing for more state funding for TB control. Brian Lefferts, environmental health and engineering director of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, which represents 58 tribes, said the state contributed about $960,000 through a tuberculosis and congenital syphilis prevention grant.

“We still have a really large TB problem and so while that’s great, there’s always more that we could be doing,” Lefferts said.

In New York City alone, more than 530 TB cases were identified in 2022, according to the state health department.

When an outbreak occurs, the state health department coordinates with local health departments for contact tracing, screening and testing, Erin Clary, New York state health department public information officer, told Stateline. People who test positive for a TB infection are offered treatment, she said.

California health officials said they provide patient education materials in multiple languages and work with about 30 community-based organizations on outbreak prevention and coordinate with local health departments on responses when outbreaks occur.

Alaska’s community testing efforts focus on areas with the highest rates, including Alaska Native communities in the southwestern and northern regions of the state. In 2022, the state saw 95 cases, a 64% increase from the previous year, health department reports show.

 

Monitoring, screening to catch cases

There is a vaccine for tuberculosis, but it isn’t recommended for use in the U.S. because it can potentially interfere with tuberculosis tests via skin samples and has questionable effectiveness against pulmonary tuberculosis in adults. Research is underway for developing a new vaccine.

The disease can be difficult to treat due to antibiotic resistance — hence the multidrug regimen.

“Treatment gets very serious, because we have a lot of drug-resistant tuberculosis now,” said Dr. Allison Kelliher, a family medicine physician and researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and the Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Indigenous Health.

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