TB still looms as Idaho health officials rally for prevention

March 26, 2024
Dr. Scott Hutton, Division of Public Health

Although Idaho and the rest of the United States have made significant progress in reducing tuberculosis (TB), 15 Idahoans and thousands of people in the U.S. were reported to have active TB in 2023.

Too many people still suffer from this potentially life-threatening disease. As World TB Day was recognized Sunday, March 24, the Idaho Division of Public Health TB Program in the Department of Health and Welfare is asking everyone to help prevent TB in our communities.

Healthcare providers are encouraged to “Think, Test, and Treat TB” because TB knows no borders. If healthcare and public health partners continue to test people at risk and treat those who are infected with the germ that causes TB, before the germ makes them sick and before they can spread it to others, Idaho can move closer to eliminating this serious disease that thousands nationwide still suffer from.

If not treated promptly and with proper medications, TB disease can be fatal. Across the globe, 1.6 million people died of TB and another 10.6 million became ill with the disease in 2021, making it the leading infectious disease killer after COVID-19.

What causes TB?

TB is caused by a germ called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a type of bacteria. Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. In fact, most people will initially develop latent TB infection (LTBI), a condition in which the bacteria lives in the body without making a person sick. However, in some people, especially those who are older, or who have weakened immune systems, the bacteria can cause TB disease, which can be deadly if not identified and treated.

The TB bacteria usually attack the lungs but can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. When a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, speaks, or sings, TB bacteria can get into the air and people nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.

When a person breathes in TB bacteria, the bacteria can settle in the lungs and begin to grow. People with TB disease are most likely to spread it to people they spend time with every day. This includes family members, friends, and coworkers or schoolmates.

TB is not spread by shaking someone’s hand, sharing food or drink with them, touching bed linens or toilet seats, or by kissing. TB in other parts of the body, such as the kidney or spine, is usually not infectious, but still requires treatment with medication.

Recognizing world TB Day

Recognition of World TB Day commemorates Dr. Robert Koch’s discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The department’s TB Program also promotes recognition of World TB Day as an opportunity to acknowledge the dedication public health and healthcare community partners across Idaho have to combating TB and providing the highest quality service they can to those with LTBI and TB disease.

Although typically identified in small numbers throughout Idaho, TB is a preventable and curable disease that is still with us. Public health and our healthcare partners are working diligently, and remain committed, to accurately identifying and treating people with TB, recommending strong measures that prevent spread, and to moving closer toward elimination by supporting treatment for those in Idaho with LTBI before they develop infectious TB disease.

More information about TB

The Department’s TB Program, in collaboration with all seven public health districts, can provide additional information on TB, and can help support screening, diagnosis, and treatment services to help Idahoans become as healthy and self-sufficient as possible. To better understand the burden of TB in your community, visit the TB Program’s annual summary at https://www.gethealthy.dhw.idaho.gov/tuberculosis.


US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tuberculosis (TB), Basic TB Fact: https://www.cdc.gov/tb/topic/basics/default.htm

CDC, Latent TB Infection and TB Disease: https://www.cdc.gov/tb/topic/basics/tbinfectiondisease.htm

CDC, TB Risk Factors: https://www.cdc.gov/tb/topic/basics/risk.htm

CDC, World TB Day 2024: https://www.cdc.gov/tb/worldtbday/

Get Healthy Idaho, Tracking Tuberculosis in Idaho: https://www.gethealthy.dhw.idaho.gov/tuberculosis

Dr. Scott Hutton is the Epidemiology Section Manager in the Division of Public Health.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov. 

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