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Tuberculosis: Forgotten but Not Gone in Wisconsin

March 24, 2008

Madison, WI – Tuberculosis isn't just in the history books. It's still around in Wisconsin. On World Tuberculosis Day today, state health experts are spreading the word that doctors should watch for the lung ailment, a disease curable with medical treatment.

Lorna Will, director of the Respiratory Disease International Health Unit at the Wisconsin Bureau of Communicable Diseases, says people should be aware that tuberculosis is still here.

"We get regular phone calls asking, 'When did the last person in Wisconsin die of tuberculosis?' expecting us to say 1954 or something, and the reality is, well, last year. Every year, we have deaths from tuberculosis. It is very much still with us."

She says it's important that the public know that TB is treatable, with medications, leading to a drastic reduction in the death rate. According to state statistics, more than 1,000 people were treated last year following exposure to the disease. Will adds that though the public should take the disease seriously, people shouldn't panic if they or someone they know is diagnosed with it.

"We also want to make it real clear to people that we have methods; this is a curable disease."

The American Lung Association of Wisconsin was formed 100 years ago to help Wisconsinites afflicted with TB. Spokesperson Michelle Mercure says her group still works to help people get through the disease.

"It's a long process of treatment. So we need to do whatever we can to support them while they're taking that medication, and make sure that they are taking it, so that tuberculosis doesn't become drug-resistant. Then it's much more difficult to treat."

Rob Ferrett/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - WI