Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious disease and has killed millions of people all over the world throughout history. However, thanks to medical advances and public health efforts, we are now able to prevent and cure most cases of TB. Today, the Boston Public Health Commission joins with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other organizations all over the world to recognize World TB Day.
Overall, tuberculosis cases are rare in the United States. In fact, about 80% of tuberculosis cases in Boston occur in residents born outside of country. However, anyone can develop the potentially serious disease regardless where they are born. That is why it is important for everyone to understand what TB is, how to recognize the symptoms and to understand what can be done to prevent the spread of it.
"Getting the word out about TB to all communities in Boston is a very important. Through awareness, education and outreach we can continue to drive down the number of TB cases here in Boston and make sure anyone who is infected knows how and where to get treatment right away," says Jennifer Lo, MD, Medical Director of BPHC.
BPHC operates the city's tuberculosis clinic, located at the Boston Medical Center. The clinic treats residents and visitors to the city who are diagnosed with TB. According to the Infectious Disease Bureau at BPHC, there were 42 cases of tuberculosis reported in Boston residents in 2017.
TB is spread by tiny germs that can float in the air. When a person with TB coughs, shouts or sneezes they can spray these germs into the air. If another person breathes in these germs, they can get TB. Even though 70% of those infected with TB have the germs in their lungs, TB can also infect other places in the body such as the bone, brain or lymph glands. Symptoms of TB include coughing, fever and night sweats. Some people may have the TB germ in their body, but do not feel sick. This is called latent or "sleeping" TB infection.
A simple test conducted on the skin of a person's arm (called the "TB skin test") can determine quickly whether a person has the TB germ in their body. A blood test is also sometimes used to confirm a diagnosis. Additional tests such as a chest x-ray or sputum (phlegm) test may be needed to confirm a TB diagnosis in some people.
People should be tested for TB if they:
- spent time with someone who has TB disease,
- are HIV positive or have another medical problem that weakens their immune system,
- have symptoms of TB disease (fever, night sweats, cough, and weight loss),
- are from a country where TB disease is common (most countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia),
- live or work in places in the United States where TB disease is more common, (homeless shelters, prison or jails, or some nursing homes)
- or use illegal drugs
TB is treatable! There are medications that can cure TB and help people stay healthy. It is important to not stop taking the medications until treatment is complete. If medication is stopped too soon, the TB germ can come back and become very hard to fight off.
The Boston Public Health Commission operates the city's tuberculosis clinic. Healthcare providers can refer their patients to the TB clinic (located at Boston Medical Center, Preston Family Building, 5th floor, 732 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02118). To schedule an urgent appointment for a suspected tuberculosis case, healthcare providers should contact the TB Clinic Triage nurse at (617) 534-4875.
Remember, TB is treatable and preventable! To learn more about TB click here.