Tuberculosis Outbreak Continues to Sicken Alabama Residents

Two more people have been verified with the tuberculosis (TB) germ in Alabama

Two more people have been verified with the tuberculosis (TB) germ in Alabama — bringing the count up to 151.

TB is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis and it typically attacks the lungs. The illness is spread through the air and was once the leading cause of death in the United States. Fortunately, the number of cases each year has been decreasing since 1992. A total of 9,421 TB cases were reported in 2014 in the US, which was a 1.5% decline since 2013.

The bacterial disease is particularly rare in Alabama — only three cases were identified in 2015. However, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) confirmed that TB is infecting dozens of children and adults in Marion, Perry County.

“Children get TB disease from adults. Because it is difficult for children to cough up many TB germs, children generally do not spread TB disease to others,” Karen Landers, MD, a pediatricians and medical consultant for ADPH, said in a news release.

As of February 2, a total of 2,023 patients were screened for the infection. Of those, 394 were children and seven of them tested positive for the TB germ.

The TB germ and TB disease are two very different things. People with the TB germ cannot transmit the bacteria because they are not contagious. But if left untreated, the germ can lead to a full-blown diagnosis.

In this Alabama situation, one of the recently identified patients is an adult with the actual TB disease. The second patient, however, is a child younger than 15 years old and just has the TB germ. Both patients are on medication and are “doing well,” according to the ADPH statement.

Most of the 151 TB germ positive patients have received chest x-rays and medication so that they do not develop the disease.

“Our two goals are to find patients infected with the TB germ and patients who have TB disease. We can now treat the patients to prevent additional cases of TB disease and the spread of the TB germ to others,” Landers continued.

The Health Department conducted TB screenings at Francis Marion High School on February 10 in order to classify more infected students.