LAWRENCEVILLE - The number of tuberculosis cases in Gwinnett County is on the rise, health officials say.
Gwinnett now has the second highest rate of TB cases in Georgia, following Fulton County, said Vernon Goins, spokesman for the county health department. The county was previously ranked No. 3, behind Fulton and DeKalb counties.
Last year, there were 55 active cases of TB reported in Gwinnett, Goins said. This year, the same number of active cases has been reported, and with five months to go until the year ends, the number for 2008 will likely increase.
Goins said the increase is probably because of Gwinnett's large immigrant population. While people who enter the country legally are tested for contagious diseases such as TB, Goins said there is no way to check those who come here illegally - until they present with symptoms.
"We can't do anything about the numbers coming into the county, but we can combat it to help the people of Gwinnett by having state-of-the-art equipment and competent personnel," Goins said.
Treating TB is a time- and labor-intensive process, but Goins said the East Metro Health District's Preventive Health Clinic in Lawrenceville can help.
"We have the best facility possible now to combat the increase," Goins said.
The clinic, which opened in 2006, is a special center that focuses on the treatment of TB infection and disease. It serves residents of the East Metro Health District, which includes Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton counties.
As a safeguard to employees, the entire clinic contains negative pressure, which helps prevent the spread of TB, Goins said.
People who suspect they have been exposed to the tuberculosis bacterium can request a skin test at the clinic at 455 Grayson Highway, Suite 400, in Lawrenceville. Skin tests cost $25.
For more information about services, call 678-422-6880.
SideBar: TB Facts
· What is TB?
Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs. But, TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal. TB disease was once the leading cause of death in the United States.
TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The bacteria are put into the air when a person with active TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs or sneezes. People in close proximity may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.
· Why is TB a problem today?
Scientists discovered the first of several medicines now used to treat TB in the 1940s. In turn, TB slowly began to decrease nationwide.
But in the 1970s and early 1980s, the country let its guard down and TB control efforts were neglected. Between 1985 and 1992, the number of TB cases increased. With increased funding and attention to the problem, there has been a steady decline in the number of persons with TB since 1992. But TB is still a problem; more than 14,000 cases were reported in 2005 in the U.S.
· How is TB spread?
TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The bacteria are put into the air when a person with active TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs or sneezes. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.
· What is latent TB infection?
In most people who breathe in TB bacteria and become infected, the body is able to fight the bacteria to stop them from growing. The bacteria become inactive, but they remain alive in the body and can become active later. This is called latent TB infection. People with latent TB infection
· have no symptoms
· don't feel sick
· can't spread TB to others
· usually have a positive skin test reaction or QuantiFERON-TB Gold test (QFT-G)
· may develop active TB disease if they do not receive treatment for latent TB infection
· What is active TB disease?
TB bacteria become active if the immune system can't stop them from growing. The active bacteria begin to multiply in the body and cause active TB disease. Some people develop active TB disease soon after becoming infected, before their immune system can fight the TB bacteria.
Source: The Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention's Division of Tuberculosis Elimination