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NYC struggles with spike in tuberculosis cases as illegal immigrants spread previously contained disease

  New York City (NYC) is seeing a spike in tuberculosis, a disease that the country largely got under control decades ago, and it's bein...

 New York City (NYC) is seeing a spike in tuberculosis, a disease that the country largely got under control decades ago, and it's being driven largely by the influx of migrants making their way to the city.

So far, around 500 cases of the disease have been seen in the city this year, which is a 20 percent rise over the number recorded last year at this time. Authorities are alarmed by the fact that infections have also reached their highest number for this time of year in NYC in more than a decade, and fears are growing that the illness could spread to other areas.

It is believed that the influx of migrants is fueling the health crisis. More than 100,000 migrants have made their way to NYC since spring, and their cramped housing conditions place them at a greater risk of infection. The problem is being compounded by long waits at city-run tuberculosis clinics, which means people are being treated when the disease has already advanced to a more challenging stage and has had more time to spread to others.

The city’s rate of 6.1 cases for every 100,000 people is already one of the nation’s highest, and the incoming winter weather could further facilitate the spread of the disease.

Experts maintain that this unexpected surge could indicate similar problems elsewhere in the nation. Treatment Action Group’s Elizabeth Lovinger noted: “When there are particularly high spikes in TB and other infectious diseases in New York City, that tends to be kind of a bellwether for the rest of the country.”

TB is spread easily in cramped living conditions

Once considered one of the deadliest diseases in the world, the fatality rate of TB has gone down dramatically in the U.S. with advances in health. However, it remains highly contagious and kills around 1.5 million people worldwide each year. Some strains have developed a resistance to many modern drugs, making it very difficult to treat.

Breathing in droplets that contain the bacteria from other people, such as via coughing, speaking, sneezing or singing, is enough to cause infection. As a result, those with known exposure to TB are typically given medication and monitored to try to control it. It typically takes several months of medication to fully eliminate the bacteria.

Unfortunately, those who have been infected in the past could experience a latent infection. This occurs when bacteria sit dormant inside the lungs and emerge when the person’s immune system is weak. This can also happen to people who have been exposed to TB.

Migrants aren't being checked for diseases at "open borders"

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, immigration applicants who have communicable diseases cannot be admitted to the country. However, there is no way of stopping those who are not screened before entering the U.S., such as undocumented migrants.

One Texas internist, Dr. James Hodges, reported that the current “open border” is causing more drug-resistant TB cases in the U.S. because many patients only receive partial treatment with over-the-counter antibiotics in Mexico.

It’s not just TB that they are bringing across the border; syphilis and other illnesses are also on the rise.

The sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, Mark Lamb, told USA Today: “Border Patrol and local agencies have seen all types of diseases like tuberculosis, scabies, COVID, hepatitis A and B, gonorrhea, syphilis, mumps, chicken pox, dengue fever, etc."

He added: "When the discussion was hot and heavy about Title 42 (a law that allows denial of entry to limit the spread of a disease) going away, I would consistently say it wasn’t just about COVID; it was about all the other health hazards being brought across our borders.” 

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