Tuberculosis Cases Increase In Maryland

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Tuberculosis, the infectious lung disease that the American Lung Association was founded to fight, remains active in Maryland. In 2008, there were a total of 278 cases of TB throughout the state, up from 270 cases in 2007. While the majority of localities saw their TB numbers increase or stay the same, Baltimore City was one of six localities in Maryland where the number of tuberculosis cases decreased. Baltimore City’s cases dropped sharply, from 47 in 2007 to 32 in 2008.

“The Baltimore numbers show how we can protect people and defeat TB with awareness and attention to strategies that work,” said John M. Colmers, Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH). “What Dr. Josh Sharfstein and his department have done to inhibit the spread of TB is an example for all local health departments, hospitals and clinics.”

Today, on World TB Day, the American Lung Association in Maryland commends both Baltimore City and Baltimore County for their efforts to stop the spread of tuberculosis. Baltimore County’s TB cases declined as well, from 31 cases in 2007 to 20 cases in 2008.

“Proper detection, diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis are important for patient health and public safety,” said Dana Lefko, Manager of Mission Services and Advocacy for the American Lung Association in Maryland. “The methods in place in Baltimore City and Baltimore County are achieving results. That work must continue and grow in order to keep Marylanders safe from tuberculosis.”


Tuberculosis is transmitted through the air when someone with active TB in the lungs coughs or talks, and it is usually spread in close living quarters. Anyone inhaling air containing TB bacteria may become infected, which is referred to as latent TB infection. Only active TB disease causes symptoms and can be spread to other people; latent TB infection does not cause symptoms and cannot be transmitted but can lay dormant in the body for years and become active disease when the body becomes vulnerable due to other illness, chemotherapy or other stressors.

In 1919, when the American Lung Association in Maryland was founded, TB was killing 1 in 4 Americans. That rate has dropped significantly in the United States, but each year, 9 million people around the world become sick with TB. An estimated 2 billion people worldwide – one third of the world’s population – are infected with TB, and more than 2 million of them die annually of the disease.

“TB is a stubborn disease that has produced illness and early death for centuries. Though far less common now, TB demands strong public health protections,” said Frances Phillips, DHMH Deputy Secretary for Public Health. “Preventing the spread of this serious disease is the day-today work of public health investigators, nurses and doctors in every city and county statewide. With increased international travel and the development of drug resistant forms of TB, this public health work becomes even more essential.”

In the United States, there were 12,898 cases of TB reported in 2008, which is a 3.8 percent decline since 2007. The Centers for Disease Control Advisory Council for the Elimination of Tuberculosis declared in 1989 that their goal was to eliminate tuberculosis in the U.S. by 2010. That goal will not be reached. It will take 96 years to eliminate TB in America if the current annual rate of decline in TB incidence continues.

“We need to remain vigilant in the fight against TB,” said Lefko of the American Lung Association. “It is critical to keep this communicable disease under control so it does not spread. Quick, accurate diagnoses and consistent, effective treatment are needed if we are going to eliminate tuberculosis in the United States.”