Maine CDC Press Release

March 24, 2011

Maine Recognizes World TB Day

Stephen Sears, MD, MPH
(207) 287-5183

AUGUSTA - World TB Day is observed on March 24 each year to commemorate the day in 1882 when Robert Koch announced the discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB). This year, the U.S. theme TB elimination: Together We Can! envisions a time when this disease no longer exists.

Tuberculosis is a disease caused by bacteria that usually infects the lungs but can affect any part of the body. Each year, about 9 million people around the world become ill with TB, and nearly 2 million TB-related deaths occur worldwide. In the United States, however, the number of reported TB cases is at an all-time low with 17 consecutive years of decline.

In 2010, Maine had eight cases of active TB. While this number is low, many more were infected but did not have active disease and were therefore not infectious. This is known as latent TB infection (LTBI). When LTBI becomes active, it can then be spread to others.

TB is spread through the air when a person with active TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, speaks, sneezes or sings. Signs and symptoms include a cough lasting 3 weeks or more, night sweats, fatigue, weight loss, coughing up blood, fever, and chills.

Although both Maine and the nation have successfully decreased the number of TB cases, there is still much to be done to eliminate the disease in at-risk populations, including the elderly, foreign-born persons, substance abusers and the homeless.

Research has made some recent strides in improving diagnostics for this ancient disease. TB skin tests have been the usual method to detect TB but a new blood test can aid in the diagnosis. While the skin test is still considered the standard, this new blood test is especially useful for those who previously received a vaccine for TB overseas or for those who would be unable to return to their provider to have their skin test read.

“While TB can be cured, it is very important that people who have TB disease finish their medicine and take it exactly as prescribed,’’ said Dr. Stephen Sears, Acting Director of the Maine CDC and the state’s epidemiologist. “If the medication is not finished, the possibility of becoming sick again is very real.” Let’s not forget that TB is here in Maine and though there are few cases, it is very costly to treat. State health officials are actively engage in partnerships and collaborations with community-based organizations throughout the state to reach at-risk populations to educate, inform and when necessary, treat people with TB.