It is estimated that up to a third of the world’s population has tuberculosis, or “TB.” Now, Northern Virginia health officials are cracking down on the deadly disease.
The disease is caused by bacteria, that spreads through the air when someone who is sick with TB disease of the lungs or throat, coughs, speaks or laughs. TB impacts the lungs but can be found in any part of the body.
As of 2017, the tuberculosis case rate in Fairfax County, Virginia was more than double the case rate in the commonwealth and more than double the case rate in the United States.
“TB is common in Fairfax County because we have a very diverse population. Many of our residents of Fairfax County have come here from countries where TB is common,” said Dr. Barbara Andrino, a tuberculosis physician.
Nine out of every ten cases of tuberculosis in Fairfax County occurs among people born in other countries. Fifty percent have lived in the U.S. for at least 10 plus years prior to their diagnosis.
“Many of our residents of Fairfax County have come here from countries where TB is common and they were unfortunately affected with the TB bacteria early in life and come here with latent TB infection said Andrino, after a press conference at the Fairfax County health department Thursday.
Latent TB means a lot of people have tuberculosis, but may not be aware until the disease becomes active once they’re older.
These are all reasons Fairfax, is participating in a regionwide tuberculosis awareness campaign. The campaign aims to breakdown the stigma that may be associated with testing for, and treating TB.
“We want to identify individuals with active disease early, so that they do not become more ill and so that they do not spread it to other individuals in the community. We also want people to be aware of latent TB infection. That there is treatment for this, that this can prevent them from developing active disease later in life.”
Andrino said treatment is very effective — but it’s best if you catch it early, something the campaign is pushing for. The campaign also wants people who received the BCG vaccine to understand that the vaccine does not offer lifelong immunity. The majority of TB patients seen in the county have actually received a BCG vaccine (because they’re from countries where TB, and therefore BCG vaccines are more common.)
TB cases have been generally declining over the years, though Andrino says things are beginning to plateau — the health department would rather see them bottom out.
“The goal is, for us to be out of a job!” she laughed.