Despite a record drop in tuberculosis cases in New York City in 2008, the number of cases increased in Queens, led by cases in immigrant communities, according to health department figures.
Tuberculosis, or TB, experienced a 2 percent decrease in cases across the city from 914 in 2007 to 895 in 2008, a record fifth year consecutive drop. At the same time, Queens experienced a 12 percent increase in TB cases, after a decline the previous year. This compared to double-digit decreases in Manhattan, single-digits in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and stable figures in Staten Island, putting Queens in the spotlight as a possible reason the citywide TB rate is still nearly three times the national rate – 11.2 versus 4.2 cases per 100,000 people.
“Tuberculosis is a winnable battle,” said Dr. Chrispin Kambili, the health department’s assistant commissioner for TB control at an event at the Langston Hughes branch of the Queens Public Library on Tuesday, March 24. “Tuberculosis is preventable and curable, so New Yorkers at risk should not be afraid to get tested.”
Immigrants accounted for 76 percent of the city’s 2008 TB cases health, department officials stated in a press release. According to the same release, those immigrants from countries where TB rates remained high, such as China, Mexico, Ecuador, Dominican Republic or Haiti, represented almost half of those patients.
In an interview with The Queens Courier, Kambili said that there were 299 TB cases in Queens and most were of recent immigrants infected before they arrived in the United States. Though the number is small compared to the 2.3 million people who live in the borough “any number of TB cases is one too many,” he said. “People should be worried.”
TB, a bacterial infection that spreads from person to person through the air, can remain latent for many years before causing active disease, usually in the lungs. When people sick with TB cough or speak, they expel TB germs into the air. Other people may breathe in the TB germs, and some may become sick.
Brief contact, like on a train or bus for example, with people sick with TB will unlikely cause infection because TB does not spread by shaking hands, sharing food or having sex. However, close daily contact with someone can cause infection.
TB remains a devastating problem in much of the developing world and affects an estimated 9 million people each year and kills more than 1.5 million annually worldwide. Most people don’t know they have TB infection until they become sick.
Peter Baldini, Chief Executive Officer of the World Lung Foundation, who gave opening remarks at the forum, emphasized how New York City had “long been a model for the rest of the world in TB control.”
“The city has shown that with a sound strategy, political will and strong management, tuberculosis can be stopped,” said Baldini, noting the need to continue to fight the TB epidemic. “Although 80 percent of cases are concentrated in 22 developing countries, we are combating an airborne enemy that honors no boundaries.”
Since Queens was the only borough to see an increase, to bring attention towards the fight against TB, the health department felt that one important step was having the third annual World TB Day Community Forum at the Langston Hughes library in Corona, a neighborhood with increased cases of TB, according to Kambili.
“Also by reaching out to the political leadership, small organizations that work with immigrants and the health centers in Queens,” said Kambili, who added that outreach to faith-based organizations, like Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Flushing – who has held testing at their site – was “an example of how we’d like to continue informing the community.”
In the meanwhile, the department reminded and stressed the availability of free screening and treatment in the health department chest centers in Corona at 34-33 Junction Boulevard and in Jamaica at 90-37 Parson Boulevard. No one will ever be asked about immigration status.
The health department offers free, confidential and convenient TB testing and state-of-the-art treatment in all five boroughs. For more information call 3-1-1 or visit www.nyc.gov/health/tb.
People should get tested for TB if they have:
• Symptoms of active TB (coughing, sweating, fatigue, weight loss, fever)
• Spent a long time with someone who has active TB disease (a family member, friend, or co-worker)
• Recently come from or traveled to a country with a high rate of TB
• HIV infection, lowered immunity, or certain medical conditions such as diabetes or chronic kidney failure
• Worked or lived in a homeless shelter, prison or other group setting