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For World Tuberculosis Day Health System Promotes Testing for a TB-Free California

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As the global health community calls attention to tuberculosis (TB) on March 24, the San Mateo County Health System and other Bay Area health departments emphasize the need for testing and treatment to stop the spread of a disease that claimed 1.7 million lives worldwide in 2016. 

Tuberculosis is caused by germs that are spread from person to person through the air. It usually affects the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, kidneys, or spine. Symptoms can include a cough for more than two weeks, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. Even though TB is both preventable and curable, the disease claims more lives globally every year than HIV/AIDS. 

“Tuberculosis is a serious health concern around the world and in the United States,” says Cassius Lockett, PhD, San Mateo County Health System’s Director of Public Health, Policy & Planning. “Given that California has 20% of the nation’s TB cases, we need to be extra vigilant and work with our partners to test, treat, and eradicate the disease.”

Every year in California, more than 2,000 people are diagnosed with TB, and nearly 2.4 million Californians have TB infection. Most have not been diagnosed and treated, as they have no symptoms and are not contagious. But without treatment they are at risk for becoming sick with the disease in the future and passing it to others.

San Mateo County reported 55 new cases in 2017 and 52 cases in 2016, which was the County’s lowest number of reported cases in the last 10 years.

“While the number of reported cases in San Mateo County has been trending down, we need to emphasize testing and education to ensure that TB infection does not develop into active disease and does not spread from those who are unaware that they are infected,” says Lisa Goozé, MD, San Mateo County Health System’s TB Controller.

Those at risk of TB infection can include persons in close contact with someone with infectious TB disease, travelers from areas of the world with high rates of TB, persons who are homeless, users of injection drugs, and those with weakened immune systems. 

Tuberculosis can be prevented by testing for the disease and treating those with the infection.

“No one is immune to TB,” says Dr. Goozé. “When a person with TB disease coughs, people who share that same air can become infected as well.”

TB screening and treatment are essential to wipe out TB. If you have a risk factor for TB or are unsure, ask your healthcare provider about testing and treatment. A list of TB testing sites in San Mateo County can be found at www.smchealth.org/TB.

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