Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tuberculosis amongst the homeless in America

Most often the disease tuberculosis is associated with poverty in the under-developed world. But it does exist in America, and our homeless population is often at risk.

From the Stockton Record, writer Jennifer Torres details a new tuberculosis scanning program that is ongoing in California homeless shelters.
Tuberculosis affects far fewer Americans than it does residents of developing countries. Still, the United States has experienced somewhat recent epidemics; the number of tuberculosis cases reported nationally rose sharply in the late 1980s and early 1990s, an increase linked in part to the spread of HIV as well as increased immigration, poverty and homelessness.

Rates of tuberculosis - a contagious disease caused by bacteria, which typically affects the lungs - have dropped in the years since, but progress, at least in California, has slowed.

Now, as poverty continues to spread and funding for prevention programs is threatened, some public health advocates warn that gains in fighting the treatable disease could be lost.

San Joaquin County has the fourth-highest tuberculosis rate in California, according to the most recent data available from the state Public Health Department. It is one of 10 counties with a tuberculosis rate higher than the statewide average of 7.2 cases per 100,000 residents. (That rate, meanwhile, is much higher than the U.S. average of 4.4.)

"I think it's good that they check us for tuberculosis," Carlos Salazar said as he put his public health card back into his wallet and carried his backpack to a bed at the homeless shelter. Salazar, originally from Guatemala, has lived in the United States for 19 years and at the homeless shelter for about two months. "If they find out you have it, you can get the right treatment."

Since fall 2007, single men at the Stockton shelter have been required to be tested for tuberculosis through the county public health office within three days of checking in. If their test comes back negative, they receive a clearance with their photo on it.

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