by Jayne E. Ferguson
Niagara County Department of Health
Emergency Preparedness Program
March 24 marks the anniversary of the 1882 discovery of tuberculosis bacteria (TB), a disease that usually affects the lungs. This discovery led to the development of treatment for tuberculosis. While TB generally affects the lungs (pulmonary TB), other body parts can also be affected, including vital organs, lymph nodes and bones (extrapulmonary TB). TB can affect anyone of any age. It is spread through the air when a contagious person with pulmonary TB coughs, speaks or breathes. Prolonged exposure is needed for an individual to become infected.
Latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) develops when someone has the TB germ in their body but is not sick or contagious. An individual with LTBI cannot spread TB to others. However, individuals with LTBI have about a 12 percent chance of developing TB disease. People who develop TB disease can spread it to others until they are treated. Without treatment, someone with TB disease has a 50 percent survival rate.
Tuberculosis accounts for nearly 1.5 million deaths every year. Worldwide it ranks in the top 10 causes of death from infectious disease. One-third of the world's population has LTBI. In a New York state 2010 statistics report, 954 cases were reported. Based on 2010 statistics, the rate of TB cases per population in New York state is the highest in the nation, with Niagara County averaging two to three cases per year.
The Niagara County Department of Health Nursing Division operates a Tuberculosis Control Program. The program supports prevention of the disease by providing surveillance, education and treatment at monthly clinics for those with LTBI. Clinics are held at the Trott Access Center in Niagara Falls and at the Niagara County Jail. The program also promotes TB awareness by providing information through media outlets, offering TB in-services to local health care facilities and by assisting medical practices with guidelines for TB treatment and testing. Under the Niagara County TB Program direction, medical professionals treat individuals with TB disease to protect the public from exposure to the disease. Public Health Law requires those with or those suspected of having pulmonary TB to be under direct observation therapy. Under this protocol, public health nurses from the Niagara County Department of Health Department must directly observe patients taking their medications until medical tests determine either they are no longer contagious, or they are cured.
For further information on tuberculosis, clinics, and in-service opportunities, contact the Niagara County Department of Health Nursing Division at 716-278-1900.