In the past, tuberculosis was all over popular culture. It was portrayed in opera (Puccini’s La bóheme, Verdi’s La Traviata), in novels (Tolstoy’s Anna Karénina, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment), and in poetry (works by both Keats and Shelley). Nowadays, it seems like the only time TB is in the news is when it’s about ancient Egyptian mummies.
In fact, TB is far from ancient. We had nearly 200 cases of TB in Arizona last year (our final numbers will be released on March 24, World TB Day). Each of those 200 cases had contact with an average of 10 contacts meaning that around 2,000 people were exposed last year in Arizona. Public health works hard to find exposed persons because some of them will develop tuberculosis in the future.
The only way we can eliminate TB is to find and treat every tuberculosis infection. Challenges include the fact that people can be infected but not have active disease or symptoms (latent TB); treatment is long and costly (even more if becomes drug-resistant); and federal support for TB programs is based on the number of state cases (a few hundred), instead of the number of contacts (a few thousand).
Arizona’s TB Control Program is working to protect the public. It has partnerships with local and tribal health, the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory (which has the GeneXpert, a test that detects tuberculosis and resistance patterns in 2 hours), the CDC, and other organizations. Keep your ears perked on World TB Day – the state and national numbers will be released, and we will see how we’re progressing toward TB elimination.