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Tuberculosis in the foreign-born and in L.A. County

July 23, 2008 | 10:08 am


Remember consumption? Probably not. But the disease, now more commonly called tuberculosis, didn't just go away with the introduction of streptomycin and a ban on public spitting. In this country, it's particularly a problem for the foreign-born.

Now comes a study, published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Assn., analyzing the cases among immigrants. The study's abstract, which begins by noting that people born outside the United States accounted for 57% of all TB cases in the U.S. in 2006, goes on to say that more than half of those cases are in people born in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. The rates go down the longer people stay in this country but remain high compared to the native-born.

Here's the story as reported by Bloomberg News: Immigrants to U.S. From Africa, Asia Should Be Screened for TB.

The disease, a bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, primarily attacks the lungs but can do a number on the rest of the body as well, as detailed by the National Library of Medicine. Symptoms include a nasty cough lasting for longer than three weeks, blood-tinged mucus as a result of that cough, weakness, weight loss, night sweats and fever.

Weakened immune systems, people living in close quarters -- M. tuberculosis, which has been with us since antiquity, loves these kinds of things. And it's why the disease was known earlier in our history as a disease of the urban poor. Infection comes primarily from breathing infected sputum, which is just as vile as it sounds. Here's more from MedicineNet on transmission and treatment.

As the World Health Organization notes, about 1.5 million people died from TB in 2006.  For a more complete global perspective, check out Global Tuberculosis Control 2006: Surveillance, Planning and Financing. It's the WHO's 12th annual report on the disease.

But for a local look, go to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which has its own tuberculosis control program. There's even some good news there. During 2006, the agency says, the county had 885 confirmed cases -- a 2.3% decrease from 2005.

The breakdown is a little different here too. Although 78% of total TB cases occurred in foreign-born populations, the largest percentage (33.9%) was found among people born in Mexico; the second-largest was found among those from the Philippines (18.7%). Here are the stats.

But treatment can't come without diagnosis, which begins with a skin test.  That's not always easy for people new to the country who may be reluctant to seek medical care. So here's a list of local clinics, courtesy of Breathe California, where L.A. County residents can get a tuberculosis test.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Dr. Alvin Chin examines X-rays of a tuberculosis patient at the Central Health Center's TB clinic in Los Angeles.

Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times