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Delayed Diagnosis of TB in U.S. Raising Concerns

Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the most common infectious illnesses, responsible for almost two million deaths in 2004 alone. Because its incidence in the United States is relatively rare, many doctors confuse TB with other diseases – often leading to failed diagnosis.

In 2005 there were 14,093 cases of TB in the U.S. The disease is treatable when detected early. However, many doctors fail to recognize its symptoms. If treatment is delayed, TB can cause permanent damage or death.

Last year the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease published a study of 158 patients. The results showed that 30 days after contacting a doctor, 45 percent of patients remained undiagnosed and 16 percent went undiagnosed for 90 days.

“There are many outstanding physicians who don’t see it anymore and therefore lose proficiency to promptly diagnose and treat it,” said Dr. Kenneth Castro, director of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention: tuberculosis elimination division.

Diagnosing TB is a complicated process requiring a combination of tests. Several organizations have mobilized their efforts to ensure that TB is diagnosed in a timely manner

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has partnered with several medical and professional
schools to help establish a TB diagnosis and prevention curriculum.
And the Centers for Disease Control has sponsored four national call centers where doctors can receive assistance in diagnosing TB.

“It’s the biggest thing that bothers me in my entire career,” executive director of the Global Tuberculosis Institute, Dr. Lee Reichman said. “People don’t think of it.”

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