Wisconsin Refugee Screening Prevents the Spread of TB

MADISON -- Due to concerns about tuberculosis (TB), the U.S. Department of State has temporarily halted the travel of approximately 6,000 Hmong refugees still in Thailand to the United States. Approximately 1,000 of the refugees were scheduled to travel to Wisconsin. Despite these federal actions, Wisconsin continues to proactively manage the TB situation in all refugee populations settling here.


"To date, only 4 of the 2,100 newly-arrived Hmong refugees have been diagnosed with active TB disease," said Jeffrey Davis, MD, chief medical officer for communicable diseases with the Wisconsin Division of Public Health. "Each of these individuals is receiving the appropriate medications, and there has been no spread of the disease to other residents."


Although refugees are screened for diseases such as tuberculosis before they leave the Wat Tham Krabok camp in Thailand, some health conditions may not surface until after the refugees have arrived in their new homes. Wisconsin provides medical exams, including tests for tuberculosis, to refugees soon after arrival. If they are infected with the tuberculosis bacterium, they receive treatment to prevent their infection from progressing to active TB disease. If not treated, a person with TB infection could develop active TB disease with symptoms including a cough lasting longer than three weeks with fever, chills, night sweats, or weight loss. Active TB disease is curable with the appropriate medications.


"We are working with partners at the state and local level to help our new residents adjust to life in Wisconsin in a safe and healthy manner," said Helene Nelson, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services. "One of our main priorities is to prevent illness from spreading," she added.


"DWD coordinates relocation efforts for the Hmong refugees in Wisconsin," said Roberta Gassman, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. "Our joint efforts have eased the resettlement of the Hmong refugees into Wisconsin, and we will make sure that assistance remains available to all new refugees coming to our state," she added.


The United States has a relatively low rate of tuberculosis, but the disease is common in many parts of the world. One-third of the worlds population is infected with the TB bacterium, and each year, 8 million people become sick with active TB disease. In 2004, Wisconsin reported 95 new cases of active TB disease. Local health departments in Wisconsin seek to screen and preventively treat people at risk. Persons at risk of acquiring new tuberculosis infections include those with:

-- recent contact with a person who has infectious tuberculosis,

-- people born in countries with a high rate of tuberculosis,

-- users of illicit drugs such as crack cocaine,

-- those with a history of homelessness, and

-- residents and employees of congregate settings such as nursing homes or jails.


Source: Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services