New Mexico Law Helps Stop Spread Of Tuberculosis

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The New Mexico House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that would protect public safety by giving more authority to public health professionals to require treatment for people with tuberculosis. The bill, which is a substitute for HB 397 and HB 173, now moves to Senate committees. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Cervantes and Rep. Benjamin Rodefer, would allow health professionals to get a court order that would require treatment for people who refuse or do not follow treatment guidelines.

If the court ordered treatment is not followed, the amended law would grant the New Mexico Department of Health the authority to isolate the client from the general public until they are cured of the disease.

“This gives us the authority we need to enforce tuberculosis treatment and protect public safety by preventing the spread of an infectious disease,” said Health Secretary Dr. Alfredo Vigil.

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TB can progress to a dangerous drug resistant form when people do not follow their course of treatment, said Dr. Steve Jenison, medical director for the Department of Health’s Infectious Disease Bureau. A typical course of treatment lasts six to nine months and includes two to four antibiotics. If the disease progresses to a drug resistant form, the treatment could last up to 24 months and involve even more medications.

“Most cases of TB are cured if people follow the treatment,” Dr. Jenison said. “We estimate that about 10 percent of our cases do not follow their treatment guidelines. Our concern is they can then spread a drug-resistant form of the disease to other people.”

If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal. TB was once the leading cause of death in the United States. TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The bacteria are put into the air when a person with active TB of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings.

In New Mexico, there were 39 cases of Tuberculosis in 2005, 48 cases in 2006, 51 cases in 2007 and 60 cases in 2008. On average in the last year, 12 percent of the cases in New Mexico had a form of tuberculosis with resistance to at least one medication.

“We have low numbers of TB in New Mexico, but we are seeing a steady rise in the number of cases and in the number of people who have a drug-resistant form of TB,” Dr. Jenison said.

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