TB Is A Cause For Watchfulness, Not Alarm


By Eric Bestrom

Over the past two years, an outbreak of tuberculosis (TB) has seen 17 Minnesotans actively infected. Six of the 17 have died, three directly from tuberculosis, the other three from other serious medical conditions. The majority of those infected were Hmong elders, and this particular outbreak has been traced to a Hmong senior center in Ramsey County.

Tuberculosis is a disease caused by bacteria spread on the air between people who are in close contact over a long time. It is treatable and curable, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but people can die if they do not get proper treatment and care. It is important for people who may have it to get tested, to protect people near to them and the community in general. The recent outbreak in Minnesota involves a stronger type of TB, which is resistant to the usual medicine, but there are other drugs, which can cure it.

Although it is not very common in the U.S., one third of the world’s population is infected with TB. The World Health Organization reports that Thailand has about 93,000 new cases of tuberculosis every year. Many people had TB or were exposed to it in Wat Tham Krabok. Those who had an active infection (showing symptoms) were tested and treated successfully before they could enter the U.S. People who have a latent infection (showing no symptoms) might have no problems for years or might never develop an active, contagious infection. The latent TB infections of a few people have turned into active infections when they become elderly or their health deteriorates.

According to the St. Paul/Ramsey County Public Health Department, you are at risk of active TB if you:

  • come from a country where TB is common.
  • have spent a lot of time with someone who has TB.
  • have not taken your TB medicine regularly.
  • have not taken all your prescribed TB medicine.

Anne M. Barry, Director of St. Paul/Ramsey County Public Health, cautions the public not to panic, but to learn correct information about tuberculosis, checking with their primary care doctors first.

“Don’t stop living your life,” says Ms. Barry, “If you’re sick, get tested. Caregivers of people who may have it should get screened, too. Knowing your status helps you and helps your community.”

“Don’t be afraid,” says Mao Heu Thao, Hmong Health Coordinator at St. Paul/Ramsey County Public Health, “Be ready and willing to seek medical attention.”

“Young people should pay close attention to elders for symptoms such as coughing for three weeks or longer, losing weight, poor appetite, sweating at night, fever, chills, feeling tired or weak, pain in the chest, coughing up blood or brown-colored material from the lungs,” Ms. Thao advises. “Keep talking with the elders. Advocate with doctors for your family members if they suffer any side effects from treatment. The doctor can adjust the treatment and provide ways to reduce or eliminate these side effects. Don’t let your loved ones just quit the treatment!”

“Lack of money or insurance or a primary doctor should not be a barrier to getting information or testing,” continues Ms. Thao. “Public Health’s TB Clinic can provide help using English or Hmong or other languages.”

St. Paul/Ramsey County Public Health can be reached at 651-266-1343 or ramseycounty.us/tbclinic.