TB canvassing to begin in Jackson

Published 4:43 pm Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In an effort to curb the spread of tuberculosis, state Department of Health workers will soon begin going door to door in central Jackson to ask residents to be screened for the disease that is on the rise again in Mississippi after years of decline.

The health department is also hiring more nurses and disease investigators and holding a two-day TB symposium as part of its effort to prevent Mississippi from reclaiming its spot as one of the nation’s leaders when it comes to the disease, state Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson said.

The health department is working with community leaders and others to educate them about the targeted surveillance, which was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, Thompson said Tuesday.

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Tuberculosis is caused by germs that are spread from person to person through the air. It usually affects the lungs and can lead to symptoms such as chest pain and coughing up blood. It kills nearly 2 million people each year worldwide, but can be treated with antibiotics.

In the 1980s, Mississippi’s rate of TB cases was the second-highest in the nation, Thompson said. But over several years and through basic health care practices, such as early intervention and routine screening, the state reduced its rate to below the national average. The lower numbers held for 15 years, but in 2006, the state began to again see a rise in cases. There were 140 cases in 2007.

Thompson said the numbers are continuing to rise this year as more cases are detected, but that’s by design. The agency used GPS technology to pinpoint the Jackson area based on a higher number of cases already found there. He didn’t disclose the exact location, but said the targeted surveillance will begin in a few weeks.

“We’ll be finding those cases in a timely fashion, and this is going to pay off in the next year and the next. If we intervene, we can prevent a lot of cases,” Thompson said. “Like a few other health issues, TB is one of those health problems people can’t protect themselves against. You can encounter someone with TB and not even know it.”

He said that’s why the public health agency is so important.

State epidemiologist Dr. Mary Currier said the Mississippi Department of Health is using a $2.5 million appropriation from the Legislature to begin hiring 66 employees who will work in the field. They’re the ones who help identify patients with communicable diseases, provide treatment and locate others who have come into contact with infected patients.

Currier, who spoke at the symposium, said some counties in Mississippi still only have one nurse.

The dozens of health care workers and providers who attended Tuesday’s session on the UMC campus were told about at least one positive trend with the disease. Cases of drug-resistant TB are declining in the U.S., said Dr. Michael Iseman, a University of Colorado professor and former director of the tuberculosis program at the National Jewish Hospital in Denver.

“We’re doing a much better job of overseeing therapy because drug resistant TB is created by inadequate therapy,” Wiseman said, adding that most of the cases that still occur are in immigrants who come from countries where drug-resistant TB is common.