Tuberculosis cases rising in SLO County, California

March 21, 2024


The San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department is warning about tuberculosis cases increasing locally and statewide, though officials say numbers remain low.

In 2023, health officials identified ten cases of active tuberculosis in SLO County. That tally followed more than a decade of case counts in the single digits, according to the Public Health Department. 

Cases of latent tuberculosis, in which the bacteria hibernate in the body without causing illness, have also increased in recent years.

In 1882, when medical personnel first identified the bacteria that causes tuberculosis, the illness killed one in every seven people living in the United States and Europe. Following decades of research, testing and treatment, most people in the United States now never encounter the disease. 

Individuals who encounter tuberculosis for an extended period of time are at risk of becoming infected. In most cases, the exposure leads to individuals developing latent tuberculosis, which does not cause symptoms and cannot spread to other people. Latent tuberculosis stays in the body and can later develop into active TB if it is not treated.

About 85% of tuberculosis cases in California result from latent TB developing into the active disease. 

“We’re very fortunate that tuberculosis is not common in our area and very effective treatment is available to stop latent TB from causing you harm,”  County Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein said in a statement. “If you’ve spent more than a month in a country where TB is more common, it’s a good idea to mention this to your doctor so you can get tested and get treatment if you need it, even if you feel fine.”

Health officials say treatment is available for active and latent tuberculosis. Symptoms of active tuberculosis include severe cough, at times with blood; night sweats; fever; weight loss; and weakness or fatigue. Patients who have active tuberculosis in their lungs or throat can spread the infection by coughing, talking or singing. The disease spread when people spend extended time together, such as living in the same household or sitting together on a long flight or car ride. It does not spread from individuals spending a few minutes in the same room or having a short conversation on the street.

The Public Health Department follows up on all cases of active tuberculosis in SLO County. When patients arrive with active tuberculosis, they begin a treatment regimen with support from the nursing team. Public Health nurses observe patients taking their medicine five days a week in order to ensure they fully complete the treatment.

Officials provide more information about tuberculosis testing and treatment with the Public Health Department online.


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