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4:34 AM Thu, Dec. 13th

TB cases increasing in Mohave County, health official says

Suspected cases of tuberculosis are increasing in Mohave County and the reason is unclear.

"More suspected cases were reported (by physicians) than in the previous year," said Christy Bronston, director of nursing with the Mohave County Department of Health and Social Services.

"Our population is growing and with that growth you're more likely to have an increase number of cases."

The health department had eight confirmed cases and one suspected case of TB during fiscal year 2000-2001.

During 2001-2002, confirmed cases decreased to five but suspected cases increased to seven, Bronston said.

Someone with the disease coughs or sneezes TB germs in the air.

The germs are inhaled by a healthy individual and may live in his or her body without causing illness.

That person has a TB infection.

Some people have immune systems that "trap" the germs and prevent the individual from becoming sick.

However, in other people the germs multiply and attack the lungs, kidneys, brain or spine.

Symptoms that may lead a doctor to suspect TB include a persistent cough, night sweats, chills and unexplained weight loss, Bronston said.

Anyone exhibiting those symptoms is referred to the health department for follow-up testing.

A skin test is the only way to determine whether someone has TB infection.

The test is normally done on one arm with a needle pricking the skin and leaving test material called tuberculin under the skin.

In two or three days, a bump about the size of a pencil eraser appears and indicates "positive," meaning that person has been exposed to TB germs.

Bronston said two tests are done to confirm TB.

One is a chest X-ray read by a pulmonologist.

The other involves getting the patient to cough up sputum and sending off cultures to a laboratory.

"What sometimes looks like TB on the X-ray may culture out to a different organism," Bronston said.

"In that case, appropriate treatment is handled by the patient's physician."

Both the infection and disease are treatable and rarely lead to death except in the case of someone with the disease who does not seek treatment.

A person can only become infected by inhalation of the TB germs.

It cannot be transmitted by someone's clothing, drinking glass, a handshake or sitting on the same toilet seat, according to information from the U.S.

Department of Health and Human Services.