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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, March 25, 2003

New TB strains worry health officials

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Health Writer

State health officials say the number of Hawai'i cases of tuberculosis has stabilized, but expressed concern about an increase in a drug-resistant strain of the infectious disease.

The number of drug-resistant cases in Hawai'i increased from 12 in 2001 to 22 in 2002. Twenty of the 22 cases were among people who came from foreign countries.

"This year our TB case rate appears to have stabilized. However, the number of cases with single- and multiple-drug resistance has nearly doubled," said Dr. Jessie Wing, chief of the Department of Health's TB Control Program.

"We are currently investigating this significant increase and plan to launch a new initiative to emphasize new national treatment guidelines for TB and drug-resistant TB throughout Hawai'i."

Hawai'i had the nation's second-highest TB rate in the country in 2002, 11.9 cases per 100,000 people. But Hawai'i's rate was nearly double that 10 years ago, at 23.5 cases per 100,000 people. The national rate was 5.2 cases per 100,000.

Of Hawai'i's 148 cases in 2002, 121 were on O'ahu, 14 in Maui County, 9 on the Big Island and 4 in Kaua'i County.

Tuberculosis is an airborne disease caused by bacteria, which usually infect the lungs. People can be infected when a person with the disease coughs or sneezes, Wing said.

The World Health Organization estimates 2 million people die of tuberculosis each year. HIV/AIDS and the emergence of resistant strains of tuberculosis fuel its spread.

Douglas Q.L. Yee, president of the American Lung Association of Hawai'i, noted that "2 billion people — fully one-third of the world's population — are infected with the tuberculosis germ."

Yee said that the disease weighs more heavily on minorities and poor communities. He added that financial support for fighting the disease tends to dwindle when the number of cases is down.