By LESLIE COLLINS
January 29, 2014
The threat of tuberculosis (TB) used to be rare in developed countries, but TB is alive and well in the U.S. and in Kansas City.
“Most people in the public just think that we got rid of TB a long time ago,” said Ron Griffin, division manager of the Kansas City, Mo., Health Department’s Division of Communicable Disease Prevention and Public Health Preparedness. “Prior to HIV coming on the scene, we had pretty much eliminated TB. But, when HIV came along, it brought it back from the brink. We had almost beat it and HIV brought it back.”
In 2013, 17 cases of active TB disease were reported in Kansas City and three of those individuals died. More than 700 individuals in Kansas City had latent TB infections in 2013. If left untreated, latent TB infections can develop into the full-blown TB disease which attacks the body, usually the lungs. TB bacteria in the lungs may cause a persistent cough, chest pain and coughing up blood or sputum. Other symptoms may include weakness or fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, chills, fever and night sweats. Tuberculosis can spread via the air when someone with active TB sneezes or coughs, and it usually infects individuals who have had prolonged contact with a person with TB.
“If it goes untreated, you can die very easily,” Griffin said.
Active TB cases in Missouri increased by about 30 compared to 2012 and Kansas City saw an increase of two cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), TB is among the most fatal diseases in the world, and about 1.4 million people died worldwide from TB in 2011. While the number of active TB cases in the U.S. has decreased in more recent years, Griffin said it’s vital to stay abreast of TB cases.
“If we let this get away from us, we’ll get back to the same as before,” he said. “We’ll have hundreds of cases of TB (in Kansas City). We’ll have deaths… The point of public health is we have to treat the patient, but we’re really preventing the spread of disease to others. In every health department in this country, TB control activities are just a cornerstone of public health.”
Kansas City City Council members recently approved a $69,880 one-year contract with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior services to conduct tuberculosis control activities in Kansas City, Mo. According to Griffin, the Kansas City, Mo., Health Department spends about $340,000 annually on tuberculosis control activities.
The city’s health department receives most of its TB case referrals from area hospitals and doctors offices. If it’s determined the individual has active TB, he or she is placed on a multi-drug treatment therapy for nine to 12 months, sometimes longer. For those with active TB, the health department monitors their therapy and ensures they take their pills.
“We have to literally watch you take those pills,” Griffin said. “That’s how serious a business it is.”
When the health department determines an individual has TB, the department also reaches out to that person’s circle of friends, family members and co-workers to be tested free of charge. For active cases of TB, the health department provides the drug treatment free of charge. For those with a latent form of TB, drug therapy is recommended, but not required, and will be provided by the health department free of charge to the individual.
“It’s difficult on a volunteer basis to convince them (those with latent TB) it is in their best interest to enter therapy for six to nine months and take those pills on a daily basis,” Griffin said. “If we can’t get them in for preventive treatment, some of those will become active cases in the future.”
With today’s combination of drug therapy, the chances of someone with latent TB developing the full-blown disease is only 10 percent, Griffin said. According to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services, those with active TB disease can be treated and cured if they seek prompt medical attention.
If you think you’ve been exposed to TB, you may contact the Kansas City, Mo., Health Department by calling (816) 513-6152 or by visiting their offices at 2400 Troost, Kansas City, Mo.