No Need For Tuberculosis Panic

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is again making headlines with warnings of a disease that can defy treatment, locking up TB patients as prisoners and the possible spreading of TB during routine air travel.

Tragically, active TB kills more than two million people worldwide each year and is the second leading cause of death among infectious diseases. Roughly one-third of the world's population is infected with TB, and Florida ranks fourth among the states in the number of cases of TB.

In light of recent headlines, TB may seem like a threatening disease. However, while it is good to take precautions, there is no need for an immediate panic. Public health officials are working to overcome this disease.

TB most frequently affects the lungs and spreads when a person with active TB coughs or sneezes. While it is possible for a person to breathe TB bacteria and become infected through a random encounter, it is not common. TB is more often spread by an infected individual to the people they spend time with each day, such as family members, co-workers and friends.

The good news is nearly 90 percent of active TB cases in Florida are curable. Within approximately one month of beginning TB treatment, a patient is no longer considered contagious. After a year of treatment, the individual is cured. We are very proud that in 2005, Florida had a therapy completion rate of 96 percent. This rate means infected Floridians sought the necessary treatment - and with the help of county health departments, physicians and other medical facilities - those individuals were cured, protecting the health of their loved ones and their fellow Floridians.

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Having such a high therapy completion rate is critical. The longer the disease is left untreated, the more people who may become infected, creating a vicious cycle. Furthermore, individuals with active TB who don't seek treatment, or who don't properly take their treatment, have the potential to become drug resistant and further expose other Floridians. The extensively drug resistant tuberculosis that has made recent news headlines is virtually unseen in Florida. However, with costs sometimes reaching $500,000 to treat a single case of this strain, treatment is unattainable in many parts of the world, creating medical, economic, social and political challenges across the globe.

Fortunately for Floridians, AG Holley Hospital calls Florida home. Located in Palm Beach County, AG Holley is one of our nation's only hospitals that has the expertise for treating active and drug-resistant strains of TB. However, TB is a global disease, and overcoming it requires a noble effort.

Florida's public health workers are diligently working to control and prevent the spread of TB and to protect Floridians from diseases. Additionally, I applaud the Florida State Laboratory for its great work and its use of state-of-the-art testing procedures to identify active TB cases quickly so that treatment can be started as quickly as possible.

One way we help control TB is by working directly with diagnosed individuals. Local public health servants regularly meet with active TB patients to ensure they take their medication, protect the people around them and seek additional medical care as needed. This type of one-on-one monitoring begins on the first day of treatment and continues until the patient is cured. In this way, we help prevent the emergence of drug-resistant strains of TB.

We also screen individuals who enter Florida from countries where TB is very common. Unfortunately, a vaccine is the only solution to eradicating this disease, and medical research is years away from developing an effective one. Until then, individual Floridians can take several steps to protect themselves and their loved ones from developing TB, including:

Knowing the symptoms of TB, including night sweats, fevers, chest pains and a cough lasting more than three weeks.

Eating a well-balanced meal, getting daily exercise and leading a healthy lifestyle to ensure a strong immune system.

And, minimizing or eliminating contact with a diseased patient.

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