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N.C. celebrates World TB Day on March 24

Tuberculosis is still a threat around the world

Release Date: March 18, 2009
Contact: Carol Schriber, 919-733-9190

RALEIGH – Although tuberculosis is both treatable and preventable, it is still one of the world’s leading causes of death from infectious disease. Every year, approximately 8 million new cases of TB are diagnosed and more than 2 million deaths are caused by TB around the world. TB is also the leading cause of death among people with HIV.

The U.S. is at an all-time low in reported TB cases, with 14 consecutive years of decline, but TB is not eradicated. In 2007, there were 13,293 people with TB disease reported in the United States. While most TB can still be successfully treated with antibiotics, the number of drug-resistant TB cases has been increasing.

In 2008, 335 cases of TB were reported in North Carolina, down slightly from 345 reported cases in 2007.  North Carolina ranked 22nd in the U.S. in TB case rates in 2007 (national 2008 data are not yet available).

World TB Day, March 24, commemorates the 1882 announcement of Dr. Robert Koch’s discovery of the TB bacillus, the germ that causes tuberculosis. Medication to treat TB was developed more than 50 years ago. However, despite advances in TB treatment and prevention efforts since then, extensively drug-resistant cases of TB are increasing in many parts of the world.

Tuberculosis is an airborne disease caused by bacteria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The germ primarily affects the lungs, but can also affect other organs. Once the TB germ is inside a person's body, the body's immune system can suppress its growth, resulting in inactive or latent TB infection, which does not make the person feel sick and cannot be spread to others. However, if not properly treated with a course of preventive antibiotics, TB infection can develop into active TB disease.

When a person with active TB disease sneezes or coughs, TB bacteria are released into the air. Another person inhaling the bacteria may then develop TB infection. A simple tuberculin skin test (sometimes called a PPD test) can help diagnose TB infection or disease. Tuberculosis can be cured and controlled with appropriate treatment and medication, which is managed through local health departments in North Carolina.

Drug resistance poses a serious threat to TB treatment and control in the U.S. and around the world. Drug-resistant TB is extremely difficult and costly to treat, and there is no effective treatment for some extremely drug-resistant TB strains. People with drug-resistant TB are more likely to die of TB and are more likely to spread the disease to others.

To help fight tuberculosis, find out more about TB, learn about TB services in your area, and then educate your family and community about TB.

For more information on tuberculosis, visit the North Carolina TB Control Program website at www.epi.state.nc.us/epi/tb or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s TB website at www.cdc.gov/tb.