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Tuberculosis on the rise in Colorado

Tuberculosis, long thought to be under control in developed countries, is on the rise in Colorado. Immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa, where TB is widespread, have brought the disease to the United States.

An influx of at-risk residents and a 20 percent increase in active TB cases in Colorado concerns state and local health officials.

In 2001, active TB cases in Colorado grew 20 percent over 2000. While the majority of those cases were in the Denver metropolitan area, 22 out of Colorado’s 64 counties also reported active cases.



In Garfield County, two active cases of TB were reported in 2001, said public health nurse Laurel Little. Both patients have since moved out of the area.

Public health nurses tracked the people these patients came in contact with, and no other active cases were identified, Little said.



According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tuberculosis killed one out of seven people in the United States and Europe in the late 19th century. Today, tuberculosis is the second-leading killer in the world, with more than 2 million TB-related deaths every year.

It is estimated that about one-third of the world’s population is infected with the tuberculosis bacteria.

TB is caused by a bacteria that is spread through the air from one person to another, usually when a person with active TB sneezes or coughs.

People can breathe in the bacteria and develop a latent form of the disease. Those with latent TB do not have symptoms and are not infectious. But children, and people with depressed immune systems such as those with HIV or diabetes, can develop the disease.

About 50 percent of children who contract TB die, Little said.

TB can be treated cheaply and successfully with antibiotics at its early stages. But late diagnosis makes treatment costly.

The Garfield County Nursing Service was recently awarded a $60,000 grant from the Caring for Colorado Foundation to study a target population that is considered at high risk for TB.

Women and their children who are clients of the county’s Women Infants and Children nutrition program will be screened for TB and receive information about the disease. If any latent or active cases are found, the clients will be treated at no cost by the Columbine Mountain Family Health Center in Glenwood Springs, Little said.

“We believe 85 percent of them are at high risk for TB,” Little said of the families in the program.

In Colorado, 61 percent of the newly identified cases of active TB are among immigrants, and over half of those are Latino, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The program is set to begin in July, Little said.

“There is limited state funding for targeted screening and treatment for high risk,” Little said. State funds are available to identify and treat cases of active TB.

Tuberculosis treatment was the county’s most ambitious and successful public health program in the 1930s and 1940s, Little said. But since it was brought under control, comprehensive testing has been eliminated in most states.

“Numbers of cases have gotten so low in the United States we’ve gotten away from testing,” said Betsy Bowie, also a member of the Colorado Tuberculosis Elimination Advisory Committee.

But with frequent air travel, the disease is more easily spread, she said.

Anyone traveling to Asia, Africa and Latin America who spends more than six months there is at high risk for the disease, Bowie said.

March 24 is World TB Day. It commemorates the day in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch announced his discovery of the bacillus that causes tuberculosis.


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