Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious disease that can affect anyone at any age. It is spread through the air from person to person. TB is not spread by shaking someone’s hand, sharing someone’s drink or by touching contaminated surfaces. When the germ is breathed in, it goes into the lungs. It may stay in the lungs or travel to other parts of the body. Not everyone that breathes in the germ will get sick. People that are ill from TB have TB disease.
Those that have been exposed to TB by breathing in the germ, but are not sick and cannot spread it to others, are said to have Latent Tuberculosis Infection (LTBI).
TB generally affects the lungs, referred to as pulmonary TB. Other body parts can be affected; vital organs, lymph nodes and bones. This is referred to as extrapulmonary TB.
Signs and symptoms of TB include the following:
- Bad cough that lasts longer than three weeks
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood or sputum
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Night sweats
Individuals with LTBI are at a higher risk of developing TB disease if they have been exposed to TB within the past two years, have HIV or diabetes or are abusing drugs and alcohol.
Testing for TB exposure can be done by using a tuberculin skin test (TST) or an IRGRA blood test. If a person has a positive skin test, further testing is done to determine if they have TB disease or LTBI.
The goals of the Niagara County Department of Health Tuberculosis Control Program are to prevent the spread of Tuberculosis by identifying and treating people with TB disease, conducting clinics and providing treatment to those with LTBI. This will limit the number of active disease cases. The program promotes TB awareness by providing information through media outlets, offering educational presentations to local health care facilities and by assisting medical providers with guidelines for TB treatment and testing. TB Program staff works to protect the public from exposure to the disease through surveillance and investigation by applying the use of CDC, New York State Department of Health and Public Health guidelines and Laws.
Public Health Law requires those with or those suspected of having pulmonary TB to be under direct observation therapy. A nurse from the Niagara County Department of Health directly observes the patient taking medications until they are either ruled out from having the disease or have completed treatment for the cure of the disease.
Clinics are held once a month in Niagara Falls at the Trott Access Center and once a month at the Niagara County Jail. Patients are evaluated for Latent TB Infection. Appointments are required to attend the clinic at the Trott Access Center.
Through a collaborative effort with Erie County Medical Center, IGRA testing is provided for foreign born individuals that have a history of receiving the TB Vaccine (BCG). The TB program staff also provides instruction to nurses on TST administration and reading of results.
To talk to a public health nurse about Tuberculosis, to make an appointment for the clinic or to request an educational presentation about Tuberculosis, call (716) 278-1900.
For more information about Tuberculosis, visit http://www.cdc.gov/tb/default.htm or http://globaltb.njms.rutgers.edu.