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For week ended March 26, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 29Mar00

Summarized by Rosemary Pollock

Utah Asks Returning LDS Missionaries To Get TB Checks
Salt Lake Tribune 24Mar00 N1
By Norma Wagner: Salt Lake Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- International travelers from Utah, including missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are being encouraged by Utah State Health Department officials to be tested for tuberculosis. They face a high risk of contracting tuberculosis and should be tested for the infectious disease when they return home, according to state health officials.

"The population contracting the disease is changing," said Teresa Garrett, bureau director of the state health department's HIV, tuberculosis control and refugee program. Utah's TB rate was lower in 1999 than the previous year, with 40 vs. 52 cases. More foreign-born residents, including women and foreign travelers, are getting and spreading the disease. In the past, male prison inmates, the homeless and those abusing substances mainly contributed to the higher-than-average national figures in the state.

"More women are exposed to TB in foreign countries than the U.S.," said Garrett. From 1995 to 1999, foreign-born residents with TB averaged about 15 percent of all state cases. Now they make up at least 55 percent of those with TB. Men used to make up 80 percent, but now women account for 40 percent of all TB cases. The increase is credited to more women from developing countries who are traveling to Utah and looking for better paying jobs.

"Health department workers have just recently started to track foreign-born travelers," Garrett added, "so they don't have comparable numbers." It is estimated that about 10 people contracted TB from foreign sources in the past two years." "I'm talking about anyone who does international travel, including missionaries." "I want to convey the concern of an international epidemic of tuberculosis and the way it comes home to Utah," Garrett said during a state health department news conference Thursday.

The most common foreign travel destinations to contract the disease are the former Soviet Union, Southeast Asia, Africa and parts of Central and South America. "Anyone who spends time in those places should be screened with an arm-skin test," she said. The good news is there is a decrease in the drug resistant strains of the disease in Utah.

The improvement is credited to Utah public health workers engaging in "directly observed therapy." Health officials visit TB patients daily to make sure they are taking their medications. "A big part of the problem is this is often a segment of our population that we call invisible," said Monte Hanks, care coordinator of Wasatch Homeless Health Care Inc., which includes the Fourth Street Clinic. "It's a challenge and very difficult to make sure they have the same access to [health care] treatment that we do," Hanks said. Utah's TB rate has fluctuated, yet remained basically stable over the past five years with an average of 50 annual cases, Garrett reported.

According to Richard Kanner of the University of Utah Division of Respiratory Critical Care and Occupational Medicine, the symptoms of TB range in early onset from no symptoms to full-blown infection to fatigue; weight loss, fever and night sweats; to coughing up blood and green-colored sputum. "We have to look at this disease globally, not just locally or even nationally," Kanner said. "It is a threat worldwide."


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