OAKLAND -- Although tuberculosis has reached an all-time low in California, with a total of 2,170 cases reported in 2013, Bay Area public health officials say there are still challenges in fighting the preventable disease.
"We still have a lot of work to do," said Pennan Barry, surveillance and epidemiology chief of the state Department of Public Health's Tuberculosis Control Branch.. He was speaking Wednesday at an event in recognition of World Tuberculosis Day at Curry International Tuberculosis Center in Oakland that drew public health leaders from Bay Area counties. World Tuberculosis Day was Monday.
In California, health officials say TB rates are nearly twice as high as the nation's average, with 5.7 cases reported per 100,000 people. Last year, 2,170 cases were reported statewide compared to 2,189 cases the year before, a nearly 1 percent decrease.
It is good news that TB has decreased, but "the bad news is in the fight to eliminate TB, we have stalled," said Michael Stacey, tuberculosis controller and acting health officer for the Solano County Public Health Bureau.
Despite TB being preventable and curable, every four hours a person is diagnosed statewide, he said. Every other day, its death toll grows by at least one.
In Contra Costa County, three patients died of TB last year. Santa Clara County saw five TB-related deaths.
A total of 10 local health jurisdictions statewide saw increases in their TB cases from 2012 to 2013. Contra Costa County saw a 3.6 percent increase from 55 to 57 TB cases. Santa Clara County saw a 2.8 percent increase from 176 to 181, and San Mateo County witnessed a 7.4 percent increase from 54 to 58 cases.
Yet, a number of Bay Area counties saw decreases in TB cases in 2013 compared to the previous year, such as Alameda County, which had a drop from 136 to 114 cases and Solano County, which saw a 23.5 percent decrease from 17 to 13 cases in 2013.
Wendy Malone, Contra Costa Health Services' TB controller, said that though that looks like an increase in TB cases, her county has been hovering steadily between 53 to 60 TB cases for the past several years.
One of the most striking features of TB is that it can be transmitted by air and someone can be infected with TB for decades and not realize it because it remains in its latent state, said Teeb Al-Samarrai, Santa Clara County Public Health Department's tuberculosis controller and deputy health officer.
"It's in the air," she said. "It's not something you have to have direct contact with someone to get. You can get it by sitting in the same room with someone."
Also some TB cases are becoming increasingly drug resistant. Thus, it's even more important to do proper screenings and questionnaires to detect TB in those who may be in populations at greater risk of getting the disease, which include foreign-born residents and those with HIV or diabetes, said Erica Pan, a deputy health officer at Alameda County Health Care Services Agency.
In fact, more than three-quarters of the cases statewide were among people born outside of the United States, said Barry. In fact, the rates of TB were 10 times higher for foreign-born residents than those who are U.S.-born.
"TB has ravaged the human race for millennia," Stacey said. "And we cannot be satisfied with status quo."
Contact Joyce Tsai at 925-847-2123. Follow her at Twitter.com/JoyceTsaiNews.
Alameda County: 114 cases, 7.9 TB cases per 100,000 residents, number of deaths not yet determined
Contra Costa County: 57 cases, 5.3 TB cases per 100,000 residents, three deaths
Santa Clara County: 181 cases, 9.8 TB cases per 100,000 residents, five deaths
Source: State Department of Public Health