Health Team

TB infections in NC fall over 31 years

Tuberculosis is a potentially fatal bacterial infection that typically attacks the lungs, but it can spread to almost any part of the body if left untreated. North Carolina used to be among the worst states for TB infections, but big improvements have been made in the last 31 years.

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North Carolina used to have one of the highest numbers of tuberculosis cases in the country, but big strides in public health over the last three decades have helped the state prevent the spread of the potentially deadly infection.

"We have done tremendously well due to our excellent public health department here," said Dr. David Weber, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "We went from being no. 3 in the country in highest rates down to 26. So we've fallen faster than many other people."

Tuberculosis involves bacteria that typically attack the lungs, but it can spread to almost any part of the body if left untreated.

It's a major cause of death worldwide, but in the U.S., infections are less common.

Weber said TB is spread through particles that are released into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

About 90 percent of people exposed to TB never get sick, but 10 percent of them will go on to develop the disease sometime later in life. 

Weber said the biggest threat of TB comes from outside the borders.

"More than half our cases we see in the United States come from people who have emigrated to the U.S., and that's a particular group that needs to seek care," he said.


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