The County of Santa Clara Public Health Department recently released new data showing a 19% increase in new tuberculosis (TB) diagnoses in the county in 2023, compared to the previous year.
This follows a 6% increase in new TB diagnoses in the county for 2022, compared to the previous year.
The data does not reflect an outbreak, county health officials advised, but rather a widely dispersed and increasing community health risk for a contagious illness.
The health risks are especially high for small children who live with untreated adults with the TB disease. In 2021, the most recent year for which comparisons are available, the San Jose area had the second highest rate of TB of any metropolitan statistical area in the nation, second only to Honolulu.
The County of Santa Clara Public Health Department is urging people at increased risk to seek TB testing and treatment. A skin test or blood test can identify someone with TB infection.
Worldwide, TB is the second leading infectious cause of death after Covid-19, according to 2022 data. An estimated one in four people are infected worldwide.
Transmission occurs when people breathe in the bacteria while in close and prolonged contact with someone with infectious TB disease. TB is not nearly as contagious as Covid and flu, and it can take months or years for people to develop symptoms, according to officials. Most people with TB infection have latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI), meaning they have no symptoms and are not contagious.
Researchers estimate that 170,000 people in Santa Clara County, and as many as 13 million people in the U.S., have LTBI. If not diagnosed or treated, these individuals are at risk of becoming sick with TB disease in the future.
“For the majority of people getting diagnosed with TB in Santa Clara County, it’s likely they had the bacteria that causes TB for many years and didn’t know it,” said Dr. Ann Loeffler, Assistant Health Officer and TB Controller for the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department. “Early detection and treatment can keep you healthy and protects the people you live with from getting sick.”
“We are seeing a rise in tuberculosis cases, but once we can identify a case, we can quickly begin treatment to cure the patient,” said Dr. Harleen Sahni with Santa Clara Valley Healthcare. “With our recently opened VHC Lundy Tuberculosis Clinic, it is easy for the public to get tested and receive treatment in Santa Clara County. This is the only such TB clinic in our county and it provides a wide range of comprehensive health assessments and medical treatments. It even includes a cutting-edge airborne isolation facility to prevent the spread of airborne diseases.”
Symptoms of TB can include an unexplained persistent cough that lasts more than several weeks, coughing up blood, chest pain, fever and weight loss.
People at highest risk of progressing from LTBI to TB disease include individuals with recent exposure to TB disease, young children under five years old, people who have a weakened immune system from diseases such as HIV and diabetes, people who take medications that suppress the immune system, and people who smoke.
For information about TB prevention and treatment, and to find a list of TB testing sites in Santa Clara County, visit sccphd.org/TBinfo.