Miss. TB rate rising

Published 7:45 pm Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mississippi’s tuberculosis rate is above the national average for the first time in six years.

Mississippi’s TB rate is the 13th worst in the nation, said State Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson. He said the state is in danger of being in the top 10. Last year, there were 137 new cases of the disease reported.

Nationally, the TB rate has fallen dramatically in recent decades, but over the past two years, Mississippi has seen its rate head the wrong way.

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Officials blame several factors for increases, including the loss of TB nurses to help track down those exposed to the disease.

“It’s very hard for one person to do the work of 10 people,” said Denise Castle, chief nurse for nine-county District 1 in northwest Mississippi.

“We may have one TB case that has 50 to 100 contacts. If I have one nurse trying to take care of this and working other cases, its a snowball effect,” she said. “It causes dramatic problems and affects everything from immunization to disease outbreaks.”

Thompson is asking lawmakers for an additional $10 million in the agency’s budget to hire more nurses, nurses aides, disease investigators and clerical workers.

If lawmakers don’t approve the funding to put more health workers on the front lines, he said, “the best we can do is fight a holding action. All the latest high-tech equipment means nothing in the fight against TB and similar diseases if you don’t have people in the county health departments … go out and find these contacts,” Thompson said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said he anticipates the Health Department will get at least some of that requested increase.