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Screening Immigrants For TB Pays Dividends In U.S.

People who test positive for infection with bacteria that cause tuberculosis can be treated before they enter the U.S.
Janice Haney Carr
People who test positive for infection with bacteria that cause tuberculosis can be treated before they enter the U.S.

Hundreds of people with tuberculosis wishing to come to the U.S. have been stopped before they reached U.S. borders, says a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Physicians overseas picked up more than 1,100 cases in prospective immigrants and refugees prior to their arrival in the U.S. The cases include 14 people with multidrug-resistant TB, the CDC says.

The agency credits beefed up recommendations for pre-travel screening that require newer, more sensitive sputum-culture tests. Of the 1,100 cases detected, about 660 would not have been identified under old guidelines.

Keeping people with TB out while they get treatment has saved the U.S. about $15 million in costs that would've been incurred for treatment here — costs the CDC says would've been mostly borne by U.S. public health departments.

The findings were published in the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which is devoted this week to World TB Day on March 24.

"In addition to creating major savings in health care costs, the program ensures that immigrants and refugees get prompt care and correct treatment," said Martin Cetron, director of CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, in a statement.

The U.S. has a very low rate of tuberculosis, even as the disease continues to rage in many countries around the world. Most cases that are identified here can be traced back to an immigrant or refugee.

The CDC says 65 percent of people with TB in the U.S were born in other countries.

One notable outbreak was underway last summer in Sheboygan, Wisc. Sheboygan is home to sizable populations from Mexico and Southeast Asia — areas where TB is common.

Last month, local health officials reported the Sheboygan outbreak was winding down.

To find out more about TB around the world, check out this FAQ on what it would take to cure MDR-TB and the stories NPR presented in 2013 as part of a series on drug-resistant TB around the world.

You can also find more information more information on the immigrant testing program on the CDC's website.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Neel is NPR's deputy senior supervising editor and a correspondent on the Science Desk.