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Tuberculosis cases noted in Alabama

The Alabama Department of Public Health announced on Aug. 14 that it was investigating a single case of tuberculosis (TB) diagnosed in a student at Auburn University. The Department is working with the University to identify faculty, staff and students who may have had close contact with the patient. Contacts will be tested beginning Aug. 19.

Senior Airman Kelly Boos, right, administers a tuberculosis test vaccination to 2nd Lt. Ryan Yochum, left, Aug. 6, 2014, at the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Immunizations Clinic.
by Desiree N. Palacios, U.S. Air Force / public domain

The Department has also notified the management of the Mercedes-Benz U.S. plant in Vance, AL that one of its employees has been diagnosed with tuberculosis. In an Aug. 8 announcement, the Department stated that the patient's contacts were being identified and tested.

AP is reporting that the St. Clair Correctional Facility, part of the Alabama prison system, has seen eight TB cases in inmates this year. Another prison has recorded a ninth illness. According to a Health Department spokesperson, the prison system had no cases in 2013. The prison at St. Clair is one of many overcrowded prison in the system, housing some 31 percent more inmates than designed to accommodate.

Tuberculosis is a contagious bacterial infection. The Centers for Disease Control describe it as:

TB is a disease caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal. TB disease was once the leading cause of death in the United States.

The number of new tuberculosis cases in the United States has been on the decline since the early 1990s. There were 9,558 cases reported in 2013, and through June 28, 2014, there have been 3,510.

The latest full year data for tuberculosis in the U.S. is from 2013. The foreign born continue to show higher rates of infection than the U.S. born. For that year, 64 percent of the cases were in foreign-born persons in the United States (where a nationality was known). That is, however, a decrease of 41 percent in the number of such cases since 2000.

The number of cases of TB in the foreign born was highest in those from Asia, 34.1 percent of the cases. Patients born in Mexico represented 20 percent of the cases. The rate of TB infections was over three times higher in Asians, no matter where they were born, at 18.7 cases per 100,000 of population than for other ethnicities. Blacks ranked second with 5.3 TB cases per 100,000 and Hispanics third with 5 per 100,000.