There has been a sharp drop in the incidence of tuberculosis in New Mexico -- a 66 percent decline the past two decades -- bringing the goal of completely eradicating the disease in our state within reach.
Last year, 37 New Mexicans were diagnosed with and treated for infectious TB, compared to 89 patients in 1996, according to figures released by the New Mexico Department of Health Tuberculosis Program. Tuberculosis rates now are at their lowest point on record, both in New Mexico and the U.S.
Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that usually attack the lungs, but can affect any part of the body, including the kidney, spine and brain. Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. As a result, two TB-related conditions exist: TB infection and TB disease. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.
The Department of Health Tuberculosis TeleECHO Clinic, operated in conjunction with Project ECHO at the UNM Health Sciences Center, recently celebrated three years of using telehealth to improve access to high-quality TB care in New Mexico. Through this partnership, the state uses video conferencing to link public health nurses throughout the state with the TB medical director and TB nurse consultant team to promote best practices in the care and nurse case management of New Mexicans with active TB.
“New Mexico stands at the edge of the opportunity to essentially eliminate TB in our state,” said Lynn Gallagher, secretary for the New Mexico Department of Health. “This is a success built on years of collaboration with health providers statewide.”
The news comes just days before World TB Day. The annual observance, celebrated each year on March 24, commemorates the day in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch announced what was then a life-changing scientific breakthrough: the discovery of TB bacillus, the root cause of tuberculosis. Tuberculosis today remains an epidemic in much of the world, causing the deaths of nearly one-and-a-half million people each year, mostly in developing countries.
To halt the spread of TB in its tracks, patients must be medically treated before they become infectious. To reach the goal of eliminating TB in New Mexico, the Department of Health aims to enlist the help of community providers to screen people at risk for TB infection and progression to active TB disease.
This June, the TB Program & Project ECHO will launch a new TeleECHO program aimed at community providers who treat those with TB infection.
The TB Program will continue to provide diagnosis and care for all persons with active infectious TB in New Mexico. Even the number of TB cases decreases in New Mexico, it is important to remember to “THINK TB." If you have a persistent cough that will not go away, ask your doctor to see if you should be tested for TB.
The Department of Health has also created a TB Helpline to assist providers with questions about testing and treating TB. The Helpline can be accessed at (505) 827-2471. For more information about the New Mexico Department of Health Tuberculosis Program. visit https://nmhealth.org/about/phd/idb/tbpp/.