In the U.S., the chances are that tuberculosis isn’t on your mind a lot. Most of us focus on TB only when we have a patient on airborne precautions—or when we’ve been exposed to TB at work.
Globally, TB was one of the top 10 causes of death in 2015. In the U.S., after a spike in cases early in the HIV epidemic, the incidence of TB has fallen to about three cases per 100,000 people. In TB-endemic countries, incidence rates run into hundreds per 100,000. But with TB elimination defined as a rate of less than one case per million people, we are far from eradicating this disease in the U.S. In fact, the number of TB cases in the U.S. rose slightly from 2014 to 2015.
Also, of course, nurses often work with people who are at high risk of acquiring TB—transplant recipients, others who are immunocompromised, people with HIV or certain cancers, those who are refugees or homeless—increasing our own risk for the disease as well. Therefore, the low overall U.S. incidence rate doesn’t reflect the experience (or risk) of most nurses. (And if you are “PPD positive,” click here for some reminders about what that should mean to you as a nurse: “Nurses and Latent TB Infection.”)
Nurses in virtually every setting can play a critical role in case finding by recognizing those at high risk for the disease and facilitating testing. And excellent infection control practices can contain transmission. Fortunately, newer testing methods and shorter treatment regimens make these tasks easier and help ensure treatment of more people with latent as well as active TB.
Read about new recommendations for TB screening and treatment in “Tuberculosis: A New Screening Recommendation and an Expanded Approach to Elimination in the United States” in this month’s AJN.