Tuberculosis cases continued climbing in 2023

FILE-A doctor examines the x-rays of a tuberculosis patient at a TB clinic in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that tuberculosis cases in 2023 were the highest in 10 years. 

Approximately 40 states reported an increase in tuberculosis cases, with rates rising among all age groups. Over 9,600 cases were reported and represented a 16% increase from 2022, the highest since 2013, the Associated Press reported, citing the CDC report.

The new CDC numbers are not a count of how many people were newly infected in 2023 but instead show how many people developed a cough or other symptoms and were diagnosed with the disease, the Associated Press noted. 

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Roughly 85% of the people counted in 2023 were infected at least a year or two earlier and had latent TB, which means bacteria enters your body and rests in the lungs or other parts of the body.

Experts estimate as many as 13 million Americans have latent TB and are not contagious.

Separately, tuberculosis cases dropped significantly at the start of COVID-19 but have soared since then. 

Despite the spike in cases, the number and rate of new tuberculosis cases annually is still smaller than it was previously, and the U.S. has a smaller rate of new tuberculosis cases compared to other countries.

The majority of tuberculosis cases are diagnosed in individuals born in other countries. Citing experts, the AP noted that the 2023 number of cases is a combination of a rise in tuberculosis cases globally— the World Health Organization said TB was behind only COVID-19 in infectious fatal diseases worldwide in 2022. 

What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that usually attack the lungs and  spreads through the air when an infectious person coughs or sneezes. If not treated properly, it can be deadly. 

The AP noted that in the late 1800s, tuberculosis killed one out of every seven people living in the United States and Europe. However, the development of antibiotics and public health efforts was beneficial in treating infections and tracking down those they infected, leading to cases falling for decades.

What’s being done to combat tuberculosis cases?

Tuberculosis vaccines are being developed, and health officials concentrating on COVID-19 are back to working on new approaches to prevent tuberculosis. 

Dr. Ashwin Vasan, New York’s health commissioner, tells the AP that New York City, which had a 28% spike in cases in 2023, is hiring tuberculosis managers and area health workers and utilizing video monitoring of patients taking medications to keep treatment rates high.

The AP reports that federal funding for tuberculosis in state and local health agencies has dipped, and one of the main antibiotics used to fight the disease has been in limited amounts in recent years, and drug-resistant tuberculosis infections have risen in some cases. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Washington, D.C.