RENO — Each year, the United States and other countries recognize World TB Day on March 24. This annual event commemorates the date in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch announced his discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacillus that causes tuberculosis (TB). It also provides an opportunity to raise awareness about TB-related problems and solutions, and to support worldwide TB-control efforts.
Local public health officials know that the goal of a world free of TB can be achieved by working together to detect, treat and prevent this disease. This is important because TB remains one of the world’s deadliest diseases.
“Not only is one-third of the world’s population infected with TB, but each year nearly 9 million more people around the world become infected with TB, and almost 2 million TB-related deaths occur worldwide,” said Washoe County District Health Officer Dr. Joseph Iser. In addition to these statistics, Iser added that TB is the leading killer of people infected with HIV.
But Iser says that the USA is back on track toward TB elimination, pointing out that the nation’s mobilization of additional resources in the 1990s has paid off. He notes that reported TB cases are at an all-time low with 18 consecutive years of decline. In 2010, there were 11,182 persons with TB disease reported in the United States, a decline from 11,537 cases in 2009. Locally, Washoe County has also seen a decline in the total number of TB cases among U.S.-born persons. And while this news is encouraging, TB elimination also has its challenges.
Health officials warn that TB disease is just the tip of the iceberg. More than 11 million people in the United State have latent TB infection, which is about 4 percent of the total population. Without treatment, between 550,000 and 1 million of these people will develop TB disease sometime in their lives. That is why raising awareness at times like World TB Day is so important, according to Iser.
“Studies have shown that until recently up to 60 percent of patients with latent TB infection never completed the existing treatment regimen because it was a grueling nine-month treatment,” he said. “Now there is a new 12-week regimen that is truly a welcome breakthrough in TB treatment. People need to know that TB and latent TB infection can be stopped.”
For more information, visit www.washoecounty.us/health or call the Tuberculosis Prevention and Control Program at 785-4785.