March 24, 2003
Tuberculosis infects a third of the world's people, and every year, 2.5 million to 3 million die. Today, it is the world's leading killer of people with HIV/AIDS. That is not the case in the United States or Texas. But because Texas has high rates of people infected with TB and high HIV infection rates, state officials at a conference in Austin last week said they want to keep people who are HIV-positive from contracting the disease.
Immigration from Mexico and other countries, including Vietnam, India and Honduras, is a major reason TB cases increased in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, Texas Commissioner of Health. In 1995, 28 percent of TB cases occurred in people born outside the United States; by 2001, 43 percent were in foreign-born men, women and children, said Charles Wallace, director of TB elimination at the Texas Department of Health. Texas had the nation's sixth-highest rate of TB. Statewide, there were 1,550 cases last year, including 65 in Travis County.
Sanchez said that 72,000 people in Texas are living with HIV/AIDS, including an estimated 18,000 who do not know their positive status. About 4 percent of those infected also have TB, said Dr. Sharon Melville, the department's epidemiology director for HIV and STDs. The state does not keep data on how many HIV/AIDS patients die of TB. But worldwide, 32 percent of the 42 million people living with HIV/AIDS die of TB, said Sophia Mukasa Monico, senior AIDS program officer at the Global Health Council, sponsor of the Austin conference.
Later this month, Sanchez said, his department will announce the state's participation in a two-year pilot program to test a "binational card" that will allow Mexican residents to be treated for TB at U.S. clinics. The goal is to prevent the spread of TB when people cross the border. El Paso is the only Texas city taking part, Wallace said.