Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Illegal immigration and drug-resistant tuberculosis


The worst forms of a drug-resistant killer tuberculosis bug, rapidly spreading throughout the world, have been gaining ground in the United States along with record legal and illegal immigration levels, alarming public-health officials over a disease once thought vanquished.

Although the number of confirmed drug-resistant TB cases in the U.S. is relatively small – still measured in the dozens – health officials say visitors from other countries are bringing in the deadliest mutations.

The only visitors to the U.S. who are screened for tuberculosis and other medical conditions are immigrants who enter the country legally. There is no easy way to screen millions of tourists and illegal migrant workers.

Worldwide, TB kills 2 million people a year, mostly in Africa and southeast Asia, but recently the European Union issued a warning that the threat there is considerable.

The drug-resistant TB recently killed more than 50 people in South Africa. It has been found in limited numbers in the U.S. – 74 reported cases since 1993. The strain is nearly impossible to cure because it is immune to the best first- and second-line TB drugs. It is as easily transmitted through the air as the old TB.

There is another form of TB concerning U.S. health officials. It is called "multi-drug resistant." It responds to more treatments but can cost up to $250,000 and take two years to cure. This is the strain increasingly common throughout the world – rising more than 50 percent from about 273,000 in 2000 to 425,000 in 2004, according to a study published in August in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

In the U.S., 128 people were found to have it in 2004, a 13 percent increase from the previous year.

The states with the highest numbers of multi-drug resistant cases in the last decade were New York, California, Texas and Florida, according to the CDC – states with the highest populations of new immigrants.

Drug Resistant Tuberculosis Strains Worry Europeans


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