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Tuberculosis Cases Are Surging in California

There has been a 'substantial increase' in tuberculosis (TB) cases in California while the number of people dying of the disease has also risen.

Aleks Phillips, Newsweek, Mar 14, 2024

There has been a "substantial increase" in tuberculosis (TB) cases in California year over year, according to the state's Department of Public Health, while the number of people dying of the disease has also risen.

In a February 26 advisory, the government agency said 2,113 cases were recorded in the state in 2023, up 15 percent from 1,842 the year before. While just 8.4 percent of TB patients died in 2010, this number had risen to 13 percent in 2020.

The latest figures mark a four-year upward trend in cases in California, rising from 1,703 in 2020. A similar number of cases were recorded from 2019 to 2023, which likely went down the following year because of coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

The California Department of Public Health urged clinicians to test patients who might be at risk of infection for TB or have symptoms of the illness so they can be treated sooner. This was apparently sent to doctors in the state by the California Medical Board.

The alert also noted that more than 80 percent of the cases in the state were among people born outside of the United States.

Dr. Houman David Hemmati, an ophthalmologist who previously worked and earned his doctorate in California, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) on Wednesday: "How are we suddenly seeing a surge of people born outside the United States, who are carrying TB, actively infected by TB, and dying from it, while also potentially spreading it throughout the community? The answer is very likely illegal immigration."

He noted, as California health officials did, that TB is more prevalent as a disease in other parts of the world such as Asia, Africa and the Middle East, as well as Central America.

"This is why getting an immigrant visa or green card requires a thorough medical examination INCLUDING TB blood test [and] chest x-ray if needed to rule out TB," Hemmati added.

In the year to September 2023, there were nearly 413,000 encounters with undocumented migrants along the California section of the U.S.-Mexico border, out of a total of nearly 2.5 million, U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures show.

While some Republican commentators have called for tougher immigration controls, others suggest that undocumented migrants should be tested in the same way legal migrants were.

The California Department of Public Health also said that immunocompromised individuals, as well as those living in communal settings and people who have been homeless, were at greater risk of contracting TB.

TB is a bacterial infection that can attack any part of the body, but not everyone who is infected immediately becomes sick, and those with the latent form of the disease are not infectious.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms can include a long-lasting cough, chest pain and coughing up blood. Other symptoms are fatigue, a lack of appetite, chills or fever and sweating at night.

There is a vaccination for TB, but it is not widely used in the U.S. and does not always protect against the bacteria. If an infection is not treated, it can be fatal.

CDC figures show there were 8,331 cases of TB across the U.S. in 2022. The total number has fallen significantly since 1993 but has shown a steady rise since 2019.

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