How to stop the spread of tuberculosis

Jose A. Alvarez

Special to Valley News

A third of the world’s population is infected with tuberculosis. That number includes people in both San Diego and Riverside counties.

March 24 was World TB Day, and the County Health and Human Services Agency is reminding residents of two things: if you’ve been exposed to someone with TB, get tested now, and if you’ve been diagnosed with latent or inactive TB, get treatment now.

“Tuberculosis is preventable and curable, but many people across the United States suffer from the disease,” Dr. Wilma Wooten, a San DiegoCounty public health officer, said. “If you’ve been exposed to someone with TB, talk to your doctor or health clinic and request a TB blood test. That is the best way to know if you have been exposed to TB.”

TB is a bacterial infection that can spread through the lymph nodes and bloodstream to any organ in the body. TB is most often found in the lungs. Tuberculosis germs are passed through the air when a person who is sick with the disease coughs, laughs or sneezes. Symptoms of active TB include persistent cough, fever, night sweats and unexplained weight loss.

Last year, 258 people were diagnosed with active TB in San Diego County. To date, 35 cases have been reported this year.

Furthermore, 2.3 million Californians have latent or inactive TB, and 77 percent don’t know it. There are an estimated 170,000 San Diegans with latent or inactive TB.

When someone is diagnosed with latent TB, it means the person may already have the germ in their body but the bacteria are dormant. In other words, the person is not contagious yet. Latent TB does not have symptoms and is not yet infectious, but without treatment, five to 10 percent of people infected with latent TB will develop active TB in their lifetimes.

“People who are diagnosed with latent TB could develop the disease and infect others,” Wooten said. “You can take antibiotics for three or four months that can reduce your chances of becoming contagious.”

For more information, check the county TB control website www.sandiegocounty.gov/hhsa/programs/phs/tuberculosis_control_program or call (619) 692-8621.

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