City Sees Increase in Cases of Tuberculosis

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Tuberculosis cases are on the rise in Berkeley despite an overall decrease statewide, according to the California Department of Health Services.

Berkeley, along with San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Sonoma counties, has seen a 10 percent increase in the number of people infected in the last year, while California has seen a decrease of 6 percent.

The state has the highest number of tuberculosis infections of any state in the country, the majority of which come from foreigners, according to state health officials.

Poki Namkung, Berkeley's health officer, said the city's unusually high rate stems from its unique population. She said the majority of cases are found among the city's homeless population and foreign students.

The rising number of tuberculosis cases in Berkeley can be attributed to increased transmission, better case detection and a rise in the population of high-risk groups, according to a spokesperson for the California Department of Health Services.

Phyllis Alvarez, the city's nurse for communicable diseases, said there were 17 cases of tuberculosis in Berkeley in 1999. The infected citizens comprise five blacks, five Asians, five Latinos and two whites. Most of the patients in the last year were men.

Alvarez said people with histories of incarceration and substance abuse are also at a greater risk. Tuberculosis is common among the 45- to 64-year-old age group, which includes many drug addicts, former prisoners and homeless people.

Tuberculosis is more likely to develop in patients infected with HIV and those who have AIDS or other chronic illnesses that affect the immune system.

Berkeley has a smaller percentage of afflicted children compared to Alameda County as a whole, Alvarez said.

She added the city is focusing on prevention by testing high-risk communities before they have a chance to develop the actual disease.

Most people with the tuberculosis infection will not develop the disease, Alvarez said. She added that even the disease itself is not highly contagious.

"(Tuberculosis) is not extremely contagious," she said. "You really need prolonged exposure to someone with (tuberculosis) disease. It is important to know it is not infectious like measles or chicken pox."

Alvarez said it is important for patients to take the medication on a strict schedule for it to be effective.

Tuberculosis is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis and is transmitted through the air. Up to 10 percent of Californians may be infected by the bacteria, although most will not develop active tuberculosis disease.

Tuberculosis symptoms include a bad cough that lasts longer than two weeks, chest pain, coughing up blood or phlegm, weakness or fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, chills, fever and night sweats.


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