Alaska retains highest rate for tuberculosis in the nation

According to the annual national data release last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Tuberculosis Elimination, Alaska has retained the highest rate for tuberculosis (TB), a rate of 7.9 cases per 100,000 people. 


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The disease is highly contagious and airborne, much like COVID-19, and the techniques to prevent the spread of TB mirror the current COVID-19 efforts.

Dr. Michelle Rothoff, Medical Epidemiologist and Alaska TB Controller for the National Tuberculosis Controllers Association, said that although Alaska has the highest rates in the nation, rates have gone down.

“Once the number one cause of death in Alaska, TB rates have been lowered through contact tracing, medical treatment and isolation. But work remains to be done to eliminate this preventable, curable disease. It is much better to prevent contagious, infectious diseases from getting a stronghold in a population than to have to treat and eliminate.”

From the 1930’s through the 1950’s, TB killed thousands of Alaskans with Alaska Native peoples especially hit hard by the disease. Current high TB rates in southwest and northern Alaska are due in part to the lingering effects of high historic rates and people living in close quarters.

Between 2019 and 2020, Alaska experienced a 0.3% increase in the TB incidents in the state. Nationwide, between 2019-2020 there was a 19.9% decrease in TB incidents, and American Indian and Alaska Native populations experienced 3.2 cases of TB per 100,000 people.