With the rate of active tuberculosis beginning to level off nationally, New Jersey Health Commissioner Cathleen D. Bennett applauds public health workers for their efforts in preventing the disease and its spread. Through ongoing public education and vigilance, New Jersey will be able to continue its progress against this public health threat.
“Last year, 294 New Jersey residents were diagnosed with active TB. This represents a 70 percent decrease in cases since TB peaked in New Jersey in 1992 when there were 982 cases,” Commissioner Bennett said. “We are continuing our collaboration with physicians, hospitals, researchers and clinics to achieve the goal of eliminating TB in our lifetime.”
March 24, 2017 marks the 35th annual World Tuberculosis Day and the second year of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) two-year "Unite to End TB" campaign. It commemorates the date in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch discovered the bacteria that causes TB. The day is observed each year to raise awareness of TB-related problems and solutions and to support worldwide TB-control efforts. The New Jersey Department of Health joins the Center for Disease Control, WHO and many other partners in promoting public awareness about tuberculosis, which remains an epidemic in many parts of the world.
TB is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis and is spread from person to person through the air. It typically affects the lungs, but can affect the brain, kidney and spine. These bacteria become active when a person’s immune system can’t stop the bacteria from spreading and multiplying. Babies, young adults, the elderly, those with HIV and others with weakened immune systems are at increased risk of contracting TB, including people with cancer, severe kidney disease, low body weight and those who have undergone an organ transplant.
TB is one of the world’s deadliest diseases and is a leading killer of people who are HIV infected, according to the CDC. One third of the world’s population is infected with TB. In 2015, about 10 million people around the world became sick with TB disease, and there were about 2 million TB-related deaths worldwide.
New Jersey has seen a significant reduction in cases of active TB since the early 1990s, however while TB has been declining among residents born in the United States, the number of cases have been decreasing more slowly among foreign-born residents. In 2016, about 80 percent of active TB cases were diagnosed in New Jersey’s foreign-born residents. The higher incidence of disease in this group may reflect the growth of New Jersey’s foreign-born population and the fact that this population often originates from areas where TB is endemic.
Counties reporting the highest numbers of newly diagnosed TB cases in 2016 were Hudson (48 cases), Middlesex (44), Essex (41), Bergen (30) and Union (26). In New Jersey, every person with TB is assigned a nurse case manager to supervise their care. Nearly all TB case-patients are placed on directly observed therapy to ensure they take all medication. This is necessary for successful treatment and to prevent drug-resistant TB strains from emerging. Nurse case managers also identify an individual’s close contacts and arrange for medical evaluation to eliminate or reduce the further spread of the disease.
If needed, complex TB cases may be referred to one of six regional specialty clinics. These clinics are located at Rutgers, The State University Hospital-Newark, the Hudson County Health Department, Morristown Memorial Hospital, Somerset Medical Center, the Middlesex County Health Department, and the Camden County Department of Health. Clinic physicians are experts in diagnosing and treating TB and consult with private physicians whose patients have complex medical issues.
CDC funds the Global TB Institute at Rutgers which has been designated a Regional Training and Medical Consultation Center, serving the northeastern states. It offers state-of-the-art treatment, conducts research, and provides consultation, education and training to physicians and health officials. The New Jersey Medical School’s Public Health Research Institute also offers sophisticated laboratory testing to quickly identify TB strains. This aids in patient treatment and in investigating cases that may be linked to the person ill with TB.
For more information about New Jersey’s TB program and information about the disease, visit http://www.nj.gov/health/tb/index.shtml. For more information on World TB Day, visit http://www.cdc.gov/tb/events/worldtbday/default.htm.
Health professionals can call the TB program at (609) 826-4878 to learn more about consultations, referrals and accessing supplemental public health services for TB patients.
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