TB cases rise dramatically in Bay Area

March 14, 2008 8:58:30 AM PDT
Health officials want to know why they're seeing more and more cases of tuberculosis in the Bay Area, while the disease is on the decline statewide. Some suspect it may be related to San Francisco's status as an entry and exit point for travelers.

Santa Clara County's Disease and Prevention Control office in San Jose is one location that's tracking the growing cases of tuberculosis. The American Lung Association of California just released its 2007 report, showing Santa Clara County as one of eight in the Bay Area that had an increase in the disease; in fact, it has the third highest rate in the state.

Health officials believe the increase of tuberculosis in the Bay Area is most likely due to the high rate of overseas travel and the high numbers of foreign-born people living in the region. Last December, a woman returning home to Santa Clara County from New Delhi, India was quarantined at Stanford Medical Center after she got off a plane at SFO, having traveled ill with TB.

The airborne bacterial disease affects the lungs and is potentially fatal if untreated. It's generally contracted by prolonged, close exposure to an infected person. An estimated two-million Californians are infected with TB, but most don't know it because it's inactive.

New data from the American Lung Association of California reports that TB cases statewide have actually decreased by almost two-percent.

There were 2,726 cases of TB in 2007. That's 53 fewer cases than in 2006. But locally the disease is on the rise. San Francisco, Santa Clara, Alameda and San Mateo counties collectively reported 620 cases last year. That's 53 more than the previous year, and accounts for nearly a quarter of the state's caseload.

Health officials say tuberculosis is a worldwide public health epidemic that knows no borders. So in recognition of "World Tuberculosis Day" on March 24th, the American Lung Association of California is urging more state funding for prevention and control efforts.