Most of us think of tuberculosis as a disease that was eradicated long ago.
But did you know Alaska leads the nation in reported tuberculosis cases?
Tuberculosis, or TB, is one of the oldest human diseases, dating back thousands of years. Unfortunately, TB remains an epidemic in many parts of the world, causing the deaths of nearly a million and a half people annually. While the disease is now both preventable and curable, Alaska still has a TB rate about three times higher than the national rate.
TB has had a devastating history in Alaska with Alaska Native people suffering the worst. Infection and death rates in Alaska in the early 1900s were among the highest in the world. Alaska Native people continue to be disproportionately affected, especially in Southwest and Northern Alaska. The urban homeless populations and some immigrant populations also suffer from high TB rates.
Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that commonly affects the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body. TB germs are spread through the air when a person with TB in their lungs coughs, sneezes or speaks. The germs can linger in the air for several hours. TB is not spread by sharing food and drink, touching someone, or through bed linens or toilet seats. People with TB disease often have a prolonged cough. Other symptoms include unexplained weight loss, fatigue, fevers, night sweats, and coughing up blood. If tuberculosis is detected, the patient must take antibiotics for at least six to nine months to cure their disease.
Anyone can get TB. But because its symptoms are similar to other diseases, it can be easy to miss if health care providers aren’t accustomed to looking for TB.
Alaska’s public health nurses play a vital role in controlling TB. They are trained to recognize the symptoms, collect sputa for testing for active TB, case manage active TB clients, screen people for TB infection and provide valuable TB education to health care providers and patients. In addition, they are also working to address conditions that make TB harder to control. This includes factors such as lack of access to health care, stable housing, healthy foods, education and employment.
For more information: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides fact sheets on tuberculosis in Spanish, https://www.cdc.gov/tb/esp/publications/factsheets/default.htm
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services also has a page with information, http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/tb.aspx