Health and Welfare Says Refugees Not Spreading TB
TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KLIX) – The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare wants to clear the air about recent reports that claim seven refugees sent to Idaho with tuberculosis are spreading the disease in the Gem State.
“It is true that seven refugees came here with tuberculosis between 2011 and 2015,” the department’s public information officer Niki Forbing-Orr told News Radio 1310, “but they were not contagious and so they could not spread the disease.”
They have since made a full recovery.
Three of the refugees were sent to Region 5, which includes the Magic Valley, she said. Four were sent to Region 4, which includes the Treasure Valley.
Refugees usually are very cooperative about being treated. They don’t want to be sick any more than we want them to be sick.
“If they had infectious TB they would not have been allowed to come here,” Forbing-Orr said. “All refugees are medically screened before they leave their country and then are medically screened again once they arrive here.”
She said the refugee population is medically monitored more closely than any other population in the state because of the medical exams they must undergo before and after arriving. If a new refugee has a health issue they are required to undergo immediate treatment, and public health officials follow up with them daily to make sure the treatment is completed.
“Refugees usually are very cooperative about getting treated,” she said. “They don’t want to be sick any more than we want them to be sick.”
Tuberculosis is a bacterial disease that usually affects the lungs, but can also impact other parts of the body such as the brain, kidneys and spine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, general symptoms include feelings of sickness and weakness, fever, night sweats and weight loss. The disease is typically spread through airborne particles by coughing or sneezing, but may also be passed by sharing drinks and other personal objects.
The disease is curable but treatment, which includes antibiotics, can often last six to nine months.
There's also latent tuberculosis, which means a person may have TB germs in their body but is not sick because the germs are not active.
The department deals with about 10 cases of active TB a year, which it reports to the CDC; one or two of the cases might come from the refugee community. But none of the five cases being treated currently are from the refugee population, Forbing-Orr said.
The last outbreak of TB in Idaho occurred in 2008 among the Treasure Valley’s homeless population, according to information by the department.
“It does happen,” she said. “We do see TB from time to time, but it is curable and it is treated.”