Coronavirus hurting Alaska attempt to reduce tuberculosis

(Photo courtesy National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska is on track to repeat last year’s mark of the nation’s highest rate of tuberculosis infections, health officials said.

There have been 38 reported cases of tuberculosis in the state so far this year, The Anchorage Daily News reported.

A federal report released in March said Alaska had 58 documented cases of the disease in 2019.

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COVID-19 has complicated the mission of eradicating tuberculosis in Alaska by reducing the public health resources that can be dedicated to fighting the illness caused by bacteria that attack the lungs, health officials said.

“Our public health nurses are really the front line workers in the fight against TB,” said Dr. Michelle Rothoff, an Alaska Division of Public Health medical epidemiologist.

“And they’re obviously being pulled in many different directions right now, which makes it more challenging for them to do all the work they need to do,” Rothoff said.

In Anchorage last week there were 15 cases of active tuberculosis and more than 300 cases of active COVID-19.

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The World Health Organization reported about 1.8 billion people are infected with tuberculosis, which kills more than a million people every year.

The majority of people with tuberculosis have its latent form and can go decades without symptoms, which is among the reasons “we continue to kind of have this smoldering epidemic in parts of our state,” Rothoff said.

Most of Alaska’s tuberculosis infections are concentrated in the Southwest and the Northern regions of the state, Rothoff said.

Rothoff hopes Alaska residents remain aware of tuberculosis threats, “even during this time when everybody has COVID on the brain,” she said.