Tuberculosis bacteria (File)

Tuberculosis bacteria (File)

State tuberculosis case counts reach 10-year high

Active tuberculosis cases in Alaska have spiked 66%

After three consecutive years of steady numbers, active tuberculosis cases in Alaska have spiked 66%, to the highest count reported in the last 10 years.

According to a Thursday State of Alaska Epidemiology Bulletin, in 2022, 96 active tuberculosis cases were reported. This is up from 58 cases of tuberculosis reported in 2021, 2020 and 2019.

The bulletin writes that Alaska has consistently had one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the nation. A 2021 Tuberculosis Summary published by the State Department of Health shows that even at last year’s much lower count, Alaska ranked highest in the nation in tuberculosis incidence rate, at 7.9 cases per 100,000 people, ahead of the two closest, Hawaii and California, at 7.4 and 4.5 respectively. The national average at that time was 2.7.

According to the bulletin, Alaska’s historically high rates of tuberculosis are largely attributed to a “devastating TB epidemic in the 19th and 20th centuries.”

The 2022 spike is attributed in part to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which the bulletin says caused delays in diagnosis and treatment for tuberculosis, “and diminished public health capacity for TB control globally.”

Specifically, the bulletin points to staffing issues in rural communities and less capacity to provide directly observed therapy to patients. Community-wide screening was suspended for two years during the pandemic.

To combat the rise in cases, the state says it’s important to “Think TB,” when considering a diagnosis, and to recognize those with increased risk.

According to the bulletin, symptoms of tuberculosis include a cough, coughing blood, sweats, fevers and weight loss.

Tuberculosis can be treated through a multidrug therapy that requires between four and nine months. Without treatment, the disease can be fatal.

“State, local, and tribal partners are all working diligently to improve TB control statewide,” the report said.

At next week’s 2023 Alaska Health Summit, held at the University of Alaska Anchorage, multiple panels are dedicated to tuberculosis, featuring State Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink.

For more information about tuberculosis in the state, visit the Department of Health’s tuberculosis page at https://health.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/tb.aspx.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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