Health officials urge Hawaii residents to get tested as part of World Tuberculosis Day

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FILE – A doctor points to an X-ray of lungs infected with tuberculosis. (Courtesy: Rodrigo Abd / Associated Press)

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii State Department of Health is urging Hawaii residents to review their risk for tuberculosis (TB) as part of the annual World Tuberculosis Day on March 24.

Hawaii has one of the highest number of cases in the nation for its population size.

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Although TB is infrequent in the United States, it is still the leading cause of infectious disease deaths in the world. Nearly one fourth of the world has the inactive form of TB infection, which means they are at risk of developing active TB sometime in the future.

State health officials estimate that the number of Hawaii residents with this infection could be as high as 70,000 to 100,000 — but no one knows for sure. Last year, Hawaii had a total of 94 cases of active TB, which was a significant drop from previous years.

“Hawaii residents are particularly vulnerable because of our close ties to areas of the world where TB is more common,” said Dr. Elizabeth MacNeill, Chief of the Department of Health’s Tuberculosis Control Branch, in a news release on Tuesday, March 23. “Those who travel frequently and spend time in countries where TB occurs or who have close contact with a person with active TB disease are at the greatest risk of being exposed and infected by TB.”

TB is most common in Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and most of the Pacific Islands, MacNeill said. Those with weak immune systems, diabetes and renal failure, as well as children under five years old, are at higher risk of developing active TB once they’ve been exposed.

The health department recommends those at risk of being exposed and infected by TB to ask a doctor about being tested for an infection. Testing involves a skin or blood test, and anyone with a history of a positive test should ask their doctor if preventative medication would be helpful.

Testing for TB infection is covered under most health insurance plans, and new medications are also available that offer a shorter course of treatment with fewer side effects.

The following information is provided by the Hawaii Department of Health’s Tuberculosis Control Program:

WHAT IS TB?

TB is a disease that is commonly seen in the lungs and can be spread from person-to-person through the air. When a person with active TB disease in the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings, tiny drops containing M. tuberculosis may be spread into the air. If another person inhales these drops, there is a chance they may become infected with TB.

Two forms of TB exist, both of which are treatable and curable:

  1. Latent TB infection – People have TB bacteria in their body, but their immune system is protecting them, and they are not sick. Someone with latent TB infection cannot spread the infection to other people and treatment is available to prevent progression to disease.
  2. Active TB disease – A person becomes sick with TB because their immune system can no longer protect them. Someone with active TB disease may spread the disease to other people. Specific antibiotic treatment can cure this disease.

For more information on TB or the program’s services, call (808) 832-5731 or click here.

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