SPRINGFIELD – In recognition of World TB Day, Gov. Rod Blagojevich today announced the lowest number of tuberculosis cases ever recorded in the state. A total of 569 tuberculosis cases were reported in 2004, down from the previous record low of 633 cases in 2003. This marks the eighth consecutive year that tuberculosis cases in Illinois have fallen to an all-time low. The Governor credited local health departments and their use of directly observed therapy for the decline.
“Providing health care for all Illinoisans is a top priority in my administration. By preventing the spread of infectious diseases, we are keeping communities healthy and improving the quality of life for people across the state. The steady decline in tuberculosis cases is evidence that our prevention strategies are working,” said Governor Blagojevich.
“This continuing decline in cases is encouraging, but we must remain vigilant,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director. “Tuberculosis is still a significant health threat and the public health and medical communities must maintain the ongoing efforts to better identify and treat people with infectious tuberculosis.”
A proven strategy used by local health departments to combat the disease has been “directly observed therapy,” in which public health workers monitor tuberculosis patients to ensure they take the correct drugs consistently and appropriately. This labor-intensive practice has received much of the credit for reducing the number of cases.
During the past decade, cases in Illinois have fallen steadily except for 1996, when there was a slight increase. Caseloads dropped below 1,000 for the first time in 1997 (974) and record lows have been reported each year since.
The city of Chicago accounted for 308 cases of tuberculosis in 2004, down from 339 in 2003 and 382 in 2002. In Cook County, including Chicago, and the five collar counties (DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will), there were 505 cases in 2004 compared to 581 cases in 2003 and 601 in 2002.
Nearly 40 percent of the cases reported in Illinois are among individuals who were born in foreign countries where tuberculosis is common, such as Mexico, India and the Philippines. The number of foreign-born cases also decreased in 2004, down to 230 cases from 271 in 2003.
Tuberculosis is a contagious and potentially life-threatening disease that is transmitted from person to person by tiny airborne particles of bacteria. While it can affect any part of the body, such as the brain, kidneys or spine, tuberculosis usually affects the lungs. General symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, fever and night sweats, and, when it attacks the lungs, a persistent cough, sometimes producing blood and chest pains.
Tuberculosis is usually curable, but a person with the disease must faithfully adhere to prescribed drug therapy for six months or longer. Many patients comply with the strict drug regimen, but some stop taking their anti-TB medication after they start to feel better. Failure to follow the therapy for the full length of time prescribed may allow the tuberculosis to return. In some cases, the re-established infection cannot be treated with the usual antibiotics.
“The recent progress noted in the TB case rates in Illinois is due, in large part, to the existing control strategies of the local public health departments,” said Harold Wimmer, President and CEO of the American Lung Association of Illinois. “They should be commended for their commitment to facilitating the services provided to those suffering from this disease in our communities. We need to remain steadfast in our efforts to control and work toward the elimination of TB so that we do not repeat the trend of increasing rates of TB seen in the late 1980s.”
The number of tuberculosis cases in the state for the last 10 years are 1995, 1,024; 1996, 1,060, 1997, 974; 1998, 850; 1999, 825; 2000, 743; 2001, 707; 2002, 680; 2003, 633 and 2004, 569.
Illinois’ numbers were released today in conjunction with World TB Day, an annual event that commemorates the day when the tuberculosis bacillus was discovered.