News 8 On Call – Most frequently asked questions about Tuberculosis

Health

Dr. Luke Davis, a clinician and researcher at Yale School of Public Health, said there are 50 to 80 TB cases a year in our state — well below the national average.

Tuberculosis is the leading cause of infectious disease death worldwide.  

But, not that common in the U.S.

He explained, “Mainly, because of high grade public health control for the last 50 years, the number of TB cases has gone down more than 90 percent due to a public health approach which includes finding, treating, and preventing TB.” 

Among the most frequently asked questions: How do you contract TB? 

“TB is a very interesting illness in that people often don’t know they are sick. They may be coughing, have a cough that goes on for many weeks. Someone who has active TB will cough these bacteria into tiny droplets that can go into the air,  and they can be inhaled by someone else.”

How do you prevent TB?

“The body actually does a really, good job controlling TB for most people. About 95 percent of people will control TB when they get infected. So, their immune system will actually control it.”  

Another is: What is the TB skin test?

“Many people have had it. Tuberculin skin test, it’s been done by their doctor or maybe by their workplace. And when we identify somebody that’s been exposed, we have an opportunity to eventually prevent them from developing active TB and never getting sick.”

Related Content: Case of tuberculosis confirmed at North Windham magnet school

Is there a TB vaccine? 

“There is a TB vaccine, but it’s not very effective. Unfortunately, it mainly prevents severe forms of TB in young children and it’s widely used outside the United States, but we don’t use it in the U.S. because TB is so rare.”

What are the risk factors?

“Spending time in places where there is more tuberculosis, especially outside the United States, is one of the risk factors that we look for, and so we encourage people who’ve spent long periods of time, at least a month or more outside of North America, that CT State Public Health encourages you to talk to your doctor and think about getting screened.” 

What do we know about the bacteria that causes TB? 

“We know it goes into the lung, but during that time period when someone has a positive test and has a normal chest x-ray, we don’t know where it’s living. It may live in the bone marrow. It may live in lymph nodes. It may live in other cells in the body.”

Part of the research is to try to understand how to identify where the bacteria is located so it can be eradicated.    

There is now also a blood test for TB.

The bottom line, Dr. Davis said, is that TB is extremely curable with antibiotics.

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