The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) reported 906 new tuberculosis (TB) cases in the County in 2005, down from 930 cases in 2004 and the lowest number of cases ever reported by DHS. While the news is promising, health officials point out that TB remains an international health concern, with seven to eight million new cases each year. The decrease of incidence in Los Angeles County is due in large measure to the widespread implementation of directly observed therapy, greater education and community outreach to high- risk populations by the department’s Tuberculosis Control Program and Public Health Clinics. Between 1996 and 2000, the highest proportion of TB cases in the County was in the 15-34 age range. As of 2005, the proportion in the age group over 65 was nearly the same as the proportion in the younger group – an expected demographic change as dormant TB can become active as a person’s immune system weakens due to age or other illnesses, like diabetes.
County statistics from 2000 to 2004 illustrate the highest prevalence of TB cases among foreign-born individuals. Nearly 80% of new cases in Los Angeles County are among the foreign-born and an estimated 95% of global TB cases occur in developing nations.
"We’re seeing an overall decline in TB cases nationally and those statistics are mirrored locally," says Jonathan Fielding, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Public Health and County Health Officer. "While there is a nationwide TB decline, Los Angeles remains fertile ground for a TB outbreak because of its diverse population and prominence as a global gateway destination." It is estimated that one-third of the world’s population is infected with TB. "Those who have latent infection may not be aware that they have TB," says Annette Nitta, M.D., Director, DHS Tuberculosis Control Program. "In the beginning they may not have symptoms, but can later develop active disease if their immune system weakens. Others may feel sick and not realize that they have TB, possibly confusing it with the flu or cold. Recent history has clearly shown that TB can and will resurge is there if a weakening of our collective will to maintain funding to eliminate this disease."