Tuberculosis is making a comeback in the US with children most at risk, CDC warns
According to official data, the number of tuberculosis in the US is on the rise.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that 2.5 in every 100,000 Americans will contract the bacterial infection by 2022. This is an increase from 2.4 per 100,000 in 2021, but still below the pre-pandemic rate from 2.7.
Experts warned that the fall in cases during the pandemic was due not to fewer infections, but to the disease not being recorded at a time when many were avoiding testing.
With those anti-Covid containment measures largely a thing of the past, serious bacterial infections are on the rise, especially in children four and under.
Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned for the first time in 20 years that the number of cases was rising worldwide. British officials also recorded a recent increase in TB cases.
Preliminary data for 2022 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday shows that the number of TB cases will increase 5 percent in 2022 to 8,300 cases
In 2022, 6,009 of 8,248 TB cases occurred among non-US born individuals, mostly of Asian or Hispanic descent. Higher overall TB incidence among American Indian or Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander individuals compared to other racial groups represents a persisting health disparity
The disease is considered serious by health officials. It’s an infection of the lungs — usually of the lungs — that occurs when a person inhales the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
It can also infect the brain, kidneys and spine.
The bacteria that cause tuberculosis are spread from person to person through tiny airborne droplets released when coughing and sneezing.
People living with HIV/AIDS and those with weakened immune systems are at greater risk of contracting tuberculosis than those with typical fully functioning immune systems.
It used to be one of the deadliest diseases in the world, with the earliest known cases occurring early in recorded human history.
The bacterial infection was a mortal enemy for much of the world until the 1900s, when the emergence of treatments such as streptomycin and para-aminosalicylic acid was discovered.
Yet the disease is highly deadly if left untreated and is still a nuisance in developing countries, where medication is not as accessible.
Tuberculosis is most common in sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia and is classically associated with malnutrition, poverty and overcrowding.
In parts of the world where people can be screened and diagnosed and treated early for the infection, treatment success can be close to 90 percent.
But in low-income countries in Africa and Asia, the prognosis is grim.
Ninety-six percent of children who die from tuberculosis have never been treated.
There is a TB vaccine called the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin Injection, but it is rarely used due to the low threat TB poses to people in the developed world.
But officials warn that the threat it poses could slowly increase due to the Covid pandemic.
The CDC reported 8,300 new TB cases in America last year. This is more than 7,874 the year before, an increase of 29 percent.
Young people were most affected, with cases among people ages 15 to 24 increasing by 23 percent, the CDC said in its Weekly report on morbidity and mortality.
The WHO warned last fall that the number of confirmed TB cases would reach 10.6 million by 2021, an increase of nearly five percent from the previous year.
This may be less of a year-over-year increase in bacterial infections and instead reflects a decrease in the number of reported cases in 2021.
The CDC cites delayed or missed doctor appointments during the pandemic as one of the reasons the number of cases declined in 2021.
Due to lockdowns and other Covid mitigation measures, many people are avoiding doctor’s offices when they would otherwise seek care.
This phenomenon also led to other interesting statistical trends, such as a drop in overall cancer diagnosis but a jump in late-stage cases.
About 80 percent of TB cases in the US are due to what doctors call “latent” infections.
This is when the bacteria lies dormant in a person’s body, but eventually “awakens” to cause an infection.
The incidence among the elderly aged 25 to 44 increased slightly less strongly at about seven percent, while that percentage increased by about one percent among 45 to 64 year olds.
Only seniors aged 65 and older saw a drop in TB cases of nearly two percent.
The lower incidence of tuberculosis among seniors can be attributed to the high mortality rate from the infection.
A higher incidence in young children may reflect recent TB transmission in the US.
Nearly three-quarters of all new TB cases in the US in 2022 were detected in people who were not born in the country.
Recent TB outbreaks in two Washington state prisons illustrate the risk TB poses to those living nearby.
No cases were reported in the prison system from 2014 to 2020, but 25 cases were reported among inmates from 2021 to 2022.
Washington’s ongoing outbreak, the largest there in 20 years, also reflects the dire consequences of delayed diagnosis during the Covid pandemic, as an already limited testing infrastructure and workforce shifted to focus almost exclusively on Covid detection.
Every day, more than 600 children under the age of 15 die from TB – nearly a quarter of a million each year.
According to UNICEF, most deaths occur in children under the age of 5.