Increase in Tuberculosis in SLO County

Written by Estero Bay News

April 2, 2024

The number of tuberculosis (TB) cases in California and here in San Luis Obispo County is increasing, though numbers remain low. Ten cases of active TB were identified in SLO County in 2023, after more than a decade of case counts in the single digits. Cases of latent TB — in which the bacteria “hibernate” in the body without yet causing illnesss — have also increased in recent years.

When the bacteria that causes TB was first identified in 1882, TB killed one in every seven people living in the U.S. and Europe. Decades of research led to effective, widely available testing and treatment so that today, most people in the U.S. never encounter the disease. Those who encounter it for an extended time are at risk for becoming infected. In most cases, exposure causes people to develop latent TB, which does not cause symptoms and cannot spread to others. It stays in the body and can later develop into active TB disease if it is not treated. About 85% of TB cases in California are caused by latent TB developing into active TB disease.

“We’re very fortunate that tuberculosis is not common in our area and very effective treatment is available to stop latent TB from causing you harm,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, County Health Officer. “If you’ve spent more than a month in a country where TB is more common, it’s a good idea to mention this to your doctor so you can get tested and get treatment if you need it, even if you feel fine.”

Treatment is available for both active and latent TB. Symptoms of active TB include severe cough (sometimes with blood), night sweats, fever, weight loss, and weakness or fatigue. People who have active TB in their lungs or throat can spread the infection by coughing, talking, or singing. TB spreads when people spend extended time together, such as living in the same household or sitting together on a long flight or car ride, not by spending a few minutes in the same room or having a short conversation on the street.

The Public Health Department follows up on all cases of active TB in SLO County. When patients come to the Public Health Department with active TB, they begin a treatment regimen with support from the nursing team. Public Health nurses observe patients taking their medicine five days a week to ensure they fully complete the treatment.

For more information about TB testing and treatment with the Public Health Department, visit slocounty.gov/TB-test. For more information about tuberculosis, visit CDC.gov/TB.  

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