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Number of tuberculosis cases in King County reach 30-year high

Showing a local symptom of a global epidemic, King County reached a new 30-year high for tuberculosis in 2007, with 161 people diagnosed with active tuberculosis (TB) disease. This was an 11 percent increase from 2006. These new findings are included in the 2007 Annual Tuberculosis report for King County, found at www.kingcounty.gov/health/tb.

“As a closely-linked neighbor of our global community, we’re vulnerable to a disease that infects one third of the world’s population and kills two million people every year,” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Our work locally is important to ensure that people with active tuberculosis disease are diagnosed and treated, and their contacts at highest risk of infection screened, so that we can prevent the spread of infection to others.”

The Tuberculosis Control Program faces Public Health budget challenges for 2009 that would jeopardize its effective work in preventing further local transmission of TB.

Investments in TB control improve community health and save money by controlling the spread of TB, officials say by reducing the opportunity for outbreaks, and helping to prevent the development of multi-drug resistant forms of the disease that cost approximately $250,000 per person to cure.

Additional key findings from the 2007 Annual Report:

• There were 161 newly-diagnosed people with active TB in King County, reflecting a rise from 125 in 2005 and 145 in 2006, and exceeding previous 30-year peaks in 2002 (158) and 2003 (155).

• 81 percent of people (134) with active TB disease in King County were low-income, 80 percent were from communities of color (129), and 76 percent (122) were foreign-born.

• 23 percent of people with TB in King County came from Southeast Asia, 15 percent from East Africa, and 8 percent from Central America.

• A contributing factor to the 2007 increase in the number of people with TB was an outbreak among 12 people from the local Marshall Islands community.

• 16 percent of people (20) with TB were resistant to at least one TB medication, and 2 people were multi-drug resistant (MDR), making them especially difficult and costly to treat. Two additional cases of MDR-TB were diagnosed in other jurisdictions in 2007, but continue care in King County.

“TB is curable and preventable, but controlling TB is an ongoing challenge,” said Dr. Masa Narita, TB Control Officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County. “We have approximately 100,000 people living in our county with latent, or dormant, TB infection who are not contagious, but are potentially future active TB cases.”

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB usually involves the lungs (pulmonary TB) but can affect almost any organ in the body. TB is almost always curable with antibiotics that are readily available in countries such as the United States.

People with active TB disease are made sick by bacteria that are active in their body. People with dormant, or latent, TB infection are not sick because the germ is inactive inside their body, and they cannot spread TB infection to others.

With no convenient preventive medications or an effective vaccine, it is unlikely that TB will be eliminated in the near future. TB generally infects the most vulnerable populations of the world, often impacted by poverty, malnutrition and overcrowding.

For more information on Public Health’s TB Control Program and activities, visit www.kingcounty.gov/health/tb.

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