For the first time in more than two decades, the rate of newly diagnosed tuberculosis cases is not dropping, U.S. health officials said Thursday.
Indeed, the number of new cases actually rose a little last year — the first of increase since 1992.
Officials said they’re not sure why it’s leveled off.
“It’s always concerning when we see progress stall — especially when there are proven interventions to prevent a disease,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We will need new and expanded efforts” to drive TB rates down again, said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, another CDC official, in an interview.
Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that usually attack the lungs, and is spread through the air when an infectious person coughs or sneezes. If not treated properly, TB can be fatal.
It once was a major cause of death and illness, and in the late 1800s killed one out of every seven people living in the United States and Europe. But the development of antibiotics and public health efforts succeeded in treating infections and tracking down those they infected.
Still, today as many as 13 million Americans have latent TB, meaning the bacteria live in their lungs but aren’t causing any illness. People with latent TB aren’t contagious.
Most new TB illnesses occur when the immune system is weakened in a person with latent TB — by another illness, by medications, or some other cause.