The majority of East Texans are unaware that tuberculosis (also referred to as “TB”) still exists in the United States, and that cases of TB are still being diagnosed every year in East Texas, even in Smith County.
TB can affect anyone, for it is transmitted when someone who has the disease breathes, coughs or sneezes some of the TB bacteria out of their lungs and another person inhales the TB bacteria. If you are in the room with an active TB patient for 20 minutes or more, then you are considered to have been exposed to the tuberculosis bacteria.
In 1882, Dr. Robert Koch announced his discovery of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. This disease remains the world’s deadliest infectious killer. Every day, nearly 4,500 people lose their lives to TB and nearly 30,000 people fall ill with this preventable and curable disease. Although the state of California has 5.2 active cases per 100,000 persons, Texas has 4 per 100,000 population.
Our local health departments and private medical providers play a crucial role keeping TB under control. Nearly 13 million people in the United States have latent TB infection, meaning that they carry the TB bacterium but they are not showing symptoms of having TB. Without proper treatment, they are at risk for developing TB in the future. Local public health agencies such as NET Health can identify and treat the person, eradicating TB from their body altogether.
TB disease will produce symptoms such as a cough, chest pain, fatigue, fever, night sweats or weight loss. Before 1882, the disease was known as “consumption” because it literally consumed the infected individual. Those who are infected but do not have symptoms will have a normal chest X-ray and will still require treatment to decrease the risk of future disease. Persons with the disease are contagious and need prompt treatment. Unfortunately, every person infected with TB may not be properly diagnosed. More importantly, there are policies that do not require people to take the treatment if they do not have the disease. Treatment is important to end symptoms and prevent permanent harm.
Our NET Health Immunization Clinic is located next to the Tyler Municipal Court at 815 N. Broadway Ave. We provide TB testing on a walk-in basis on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Testing hours are from 8 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 4 p.m., except for Wednesdays when our TB testing hours extend to 6 p.m. A test costs $20 and can be paid by cash, check or credit card. The price includes the actual test and the reading of the test, which is done 48 to 72 hours after the test has been performed.
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Teresa Nowland is NET Health TB nurse case manager.