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Tuberculosis remains high public health priority

WILLMAR — Kandiyohi County is one of a handful of west central Minnesota counties where cases of active tuberculosis are reported every year.

Kandiyohi County reported two cases of active TB in 2012 and three cases were reported last year.

By contrast, state statistics indicate 66 counties reported zero cases of active tuberculosis in 2012.  

The highest concentration is in the metro area.

Addressing tuberculosis in the community is “an important part of what we do in public health,” said Denise

, a Kandiyohi County public health nurse, during a presentation Tuesday to the County Board.

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that typically attacks the lungs, but can also affect other organs. Active tuberculosis is contagious, but more people have latent TB where the bacteria is present but not active.

Latent TB is not contagious but has the potential to become active if not treated.

Kragenbring said it’s estimated that 11 million Americans have latent tuberculosis, with 5 to 10 percent developing active tuberculosis.

Kandiyohi County currently has 58 cases of latent tuberculosis, and treatment is being monitored by the Public Health Department.

Treatment includes daily doses of antibiotics for nine months.

 “It’s one of our big jobs here with public health to treat latent TB to prevent active,” she said.

Because there are no symptoms for latent tuberculosis, it can be difficult to catch.

People with latent TB may also be reluctant to take antibiotics for nine months because they don’t feel sick.

“It’s a long course of taking medications when you feel fine,” said Health and Family Services Director Ann Stehn. “Compliance can be difficult for anybody.”

Symptoms of active tuberculosis can include coughing up blood, weight loss, chills and night sweats. Treatments include taking multiple medications for about a year.

The disease is typically spread through the air.

Those most at risk are people who have day-to-day contact with individuals with active tuberculosis, immigrants who come from regions were TB is prevalent, students and people who work at institutions — such jails, hospitals and shelters — where tuberculosis may be present.

The county offers TB screening of high-risk individuals and monitors compliance with those being treated for active and latent cases.

Systems are in place to notify public health agencies when individuals with active tuberculosis move to a new region. Agreements allow states to share information when people move from one state to another.

The system isn’t perfect, said Kragenbring, but it does help keep tabs on the disease.

 Stehn said tuberculosis is a significant concern for the county and controlling it is a primary function for public health.

“We’ve put a lot of effort into it,” said Stehn.

She praised the county staff for education programs about tuberculosis and commended people with latent TB for taking preventative medications.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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