New York City health officials announced today new lows in tuberculosis (TB) cases on the eve of World TB Day tomorrow. The health department says TB cases in NYC reached a new, historic low of 585 cases in 2014, and TB incidence decreased 10 percent to a rate of 7.2 cases per 100,000 people.

New York City Skyline/Barvinok (Sylius)
New York City Skyline/Barvinok (Sylius)

However, TB continues to disproportionately affect foreign-born New Yorkers, with 85 percent of total TB cases among individuals born outside the United States. China was the most common country of birth for TB cases in 2014, exceeding the number of cases born in the United States.

Related: TB outbreak reported in Chinese-born adults in Brooklyn

“The 10 percent decline in the number of TB cases from a year ago is promising, but more can be done to reduce the number of cases in New York City,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Though TB is treatable and curable, the disease disproportionally impacts certain populations in New York City. To address this, we are collaborating with community-based organizations, elected officials, and other agencies to improve TB prevention and control in the areas with the highest rates. We also encourage healthcare providers to test and treat people who are at risk, and New Yorkers who may be at an increased risk are advised to speak with a medical provider.”

Although there have been great strides in reducing TB, New York City has the highest number of TB cases of any city in the nation and more than twice the 2014 national rate of 3.0 per 100,000. According to the 2014 data, Queens continued to have the highest burden of TB in 2014 with 36 percent of the city’s cases, at a rate of 9.2 per 100,000. The neighborhood with the highest rate of TB is Sunset Park in Brooklyn, with a rate of 23.1 per 100,000, which is more than three times the citywide rate. The Health Department continues to work with healthcare providers and communities to promote TB screening as well as to introduce new technology for more efficient and effective treatment regimens.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis /Janice Haney Carr
Mycobacterium tuberculosis /Janice Haney Carr

Tuberculosis, or TB, is a serious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. With proper care and treatment, TB can be prevented and cured. There is a difference between TB infection and active TB disease. TB infection means that TB bacteria are living in the body but not causing any symptoms. People with TB infection do not feel sick and cannot spread the disease. Symptoms of TB disease may include weight loss, a persistent cough lasting longer than three weeks, chest pain, coughing up blood or phlegm, loss of appetite, chills, fever or night sweats. TB disease is spread from person to person through the air, and usually affects the lungs.

When a person who is sick with TB coughs, sneezes, or sings, they put TB germs in the air. Other people may breathe in the TB germs, and some may become sick. People usually get TB germs in their bodies only when they spend a long time around someone who is sick with TB — for example, if they live or work with someone with TB. Brief contact with people who are sick with TB (such as on trains or buses) is unlikely to give a person TB. TB is not spread by shaking hands, sharing food or through sexual activity. Most people do not know they have TB until they become sick. That is why it is a good idea for people at high risk for TB to get tested.

The World Health Organization says World TB Day, 24 March, is an opportunity to raise awareness about the burden of tuberculosis (TB) worldwide and the status of TB prevention and control efforts. WHO’s End TB Strategy envisions a world free of TB with zero deaths, disease and suffering. It sets targets and outlines actions for governments and partners to provide patient-centred care, pursue policies and systems that enable prevention and care, and drive research and innovations needed to end the epidemic and eliminate TB.

On World TB Day 2015, WHO calls on governments, affected communities, civil society organizations, health-care providers, and international partners to join the drive to roll out this strategy and to reach, treat and cure all those who are ill today.

Tuberculosis (TB) is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent. In 2013, 9 million people fell ill with TB and 1.5 million died from the disease.

Globally in 2013, an estimated 480 000 people developed multidrug resistant TB (MDR-TB).

The good news is the TB death rate dropped 45% between 1990 and 2013 and an estimated 37 million lives were saved through TB diagnosis and treatment between 2000 and 2013.