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County On Watch for Tuberculosis

Figures in Mountain View remained flat year-to-year.

While the rate of tuberculosis cases in California has fallen over the past decade, health care providers remind the public to guard against the tough-to-detect and potentially fatal illness.

A group of public health care representatives from the state and multiple Bay Area counties gathered in San Jose on Thursday morning to commemorate World TB Day and raise awareness about the disease.

An airborne bacterial lung infection Tuberculosis can remain dormant in the body for years, according to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department. Once the TB infection becomes active, the infected person become contagious.

"It can spread from a relatively small number of people," said Charles Crane, Medical Director for Contra Costa County Health Services' TB program.         

Although curable and preventable, TB can be a neglected disease that poses a great risk to those with health conditions that predispose them to the lung disease, such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes and others with weak immune systems, according to Crane.

Last year, 181 cases of active TB were reported in Santa Clara County alone and of those. Twenty-six of those patients died, according to the county health department.

Of the active cases, four lived in Mountain View, a figure that remained unchanged from 2010 to 2011, accounting for 5.4 percent of cases in the county.

Nonetheless, the number of TB cases statewide continues to decline each year, California TB Controller Dr. Jennifer Flood said today.

"This past year, we observed the lowest case count ever reported in California with 2,317 cases," Flood said. "While we have so much to be
proud of in the state, the work remaining is really sobering."

Bay Area residents have a greater chance of becoming infected than those in other areas of the country since the region is a global hub, and since many area residents travel to countries with high TB case counts, according to the Santa Clara public health department.

Children and the elderly are especially at risk, as are millions of uninsured Californians, Crane said.

"We cannot allow barriers to care to result in no treatment for TB, even if we have to pay for it," he said.

Crane and other doctors today warned that budget cuts to federal, state and county TB program funding could cause the number of cases to soar, diverting massive amounts of taxpayer dollars to treat TB outbreaks.

"Now is the time to keep funding programs that fight TB," said Margo Sidener, CEO of Breath California of the Bay Area, in a statement. "We have made good progress in recent years, and if we lose our public health
infrastructure because of budget cuts, we will pay more in future healthcare costs."

Reported by Bay City News and Claudia Cruz

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