By Luke Andrews Health Reporter For Dailymail.Com
21:07 06 Oct 2023, updated 21:24 06 Oct 2023
New York City is recording a ‘dramatic’ rise in tuberculosis cases, reports suggest — fueling fears the disease could resurge in the US.
Preliminary data shows 500 cases of tuberculosis (TB) have been diagnosed in the city so far this year — marking a 20 percent increase from this time last year.
Infections are also at their highest level in the city for this time of year in more than a decade, raising concerns the disease could spill into other areas of the country.
Some health officials say the surge is being driven by fatigue following the Covid pandemic — with some people avoiding clinics and treatments — and cuts to funding — with the only TB clinic in Manhattan recently shuttered.
There are also fears the migrant crisis in New York City, which has seen more than 100,000 migrants arriving in the city since spring, could be driving the infection rates because this group is at a heightened risk of infection due to cramped housing conditions.
TB was once one of the deadliest infections in the world and a death sentence for half of those it infected.
But with the arrival of vaccines — up to 80 percent effective against severe disease — and other treatments, the fatality rate has now dropped below four percent in developed countries.
Patients catch the disease by breathing in droplets laced with the bacteria, with infections beginning as coughing up phlegm or blood and a persistent cough that doesn’t ease within three weeks.
Tuberculosis makes a rebound in the US
Experts warned that case declines during the pandemic were not because of fewer infections but because of illness going unrecorded during a time many avoided testing.
The US stopped routinely giving out the TB vaccine — called Bacillus Calmetter-Guerin — in the 1970s after cases and deaths nosedived in the country.
But the vaccine may still be offered to patients and healthcare workers who have had close contact with a TB patient.
People exposed to TB patients will also be monitored and offered drugs to curb the infection.
Doctors treat TB via administering a cocktail of drugs over the course of eight months to eliminate the bacteria.
Previously infected or exposed people, however, face the risk of ‘latent’ infections, when the bacteria remains dormant in the lungs ready to emerge should the immune system weaken again.
Responding to the rising TB cases in New York, Elizabeth Lovinger from the advocacy group Treatment Action Group, told Politico: ‘This is definitely a more dramatic resurgence than we would have probably expected.
Across the US, TB cases are rising after falling in 2020 — likely because of a reduction in testing as most stayed home during the Covid pandemic.
There were 8,300 cases detected in 2022 and nearly 9,000 in 2019.
Before the pandemic, TB cases were steadily declining after dropping below 20,000 per year in 1997 and below 10,000 in 2012.
In New York City, the rise is likely worsened by the closure of one of the four clinics dedicated to TB handling patients — and the only one in Manhattan.
The TB clinic in Washington Heights was shifted to handling Covid patients during the pandemic and was later shuttered. Local Health officials insist there are still plans to renovate or reopen the clinic.
The reduction in capacity means patients with active infections now have to wait two to three days for treatment, raising the risk they infect others.
There are also concerns that TB could get into already cramped and overcrowded migrant centers in the city and quickly cause a wave of infections.
A spokesman for the New York City Department of Health insisted the city was still a ‘leader in TB care’.
He said: ‘We have pioneered treatments and therapies in New York City.
‘We also launched a new latent tuberculosis infection provider outreach campaign to increase screening, diagnosis and treatment among at-risk New Yorkers.
‘Additionally, we have a contract with a local provider that is worth up to $500,000 to ensure that New Yorkers receive care and that we have additional capacity in place should anyone need services.’
Dr. Debi Johnson is a medical expert and health journalist dedicated to promoting well-being. With a background in medicine, she offers evidence-based insights into health trends and wellness practices. Beyond her reporting, Dr. Debi enjoys hiking, yoga, and empowering others to lead healthier lives.