Seventy-five percent of current illegal immigrants are coming from countries in Central America, South America, the Middle East, West Africa, China, India, Pakistan and others far beyond Mexico where multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is common and extremely widespread in children and adults. Extensively Drug Resistant TB (XDR-TB) is an even more serious form of TB accounting for about 10% of cases in these countries, particularly Central/South America and India. Many illegal border crossers now flooding the U.S. southern border, are carrying an invisible, disease-causing co-traveler: the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium.
MDR-TB does not respond well to treatment, even with complicated and expensive medications that must be taken over a two-year period and can cause severe adverse drug reactions. XDR-TB doesn’t respond well even to second-line drugs and therefore is more likely to cause death.
Tuberculosis, or "consumption" as it was called in the past, is a highly contagious disease that killed millions before being essentially eradicated in the U.S. In the 1920s, TB was the 8th leading cause of death in children 1-4 years old. By the 1960s, with improved sanitation, medical care, and antibiotics, TB was drastically reduced. The last remaining TB hospital in the U.S. recently closed its doors.
In Central and South America, where public health programs are limited and antibiotics are not widely available, TB is a widespread, debilitating, and deadly disease. Consider data from World Health Organization, WHO:
- TB is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent.
- In 2012 alone, 15% of the reported 8.6 million cases resulted in death.
- HIV/AID and TB are a lethal combination, each disease accelerating the progression of the other. People with HIV/AIDS who are exposed to TB are 30 times more likely to develop the disease, with a death rate of over 20% or 1 in 5.
- TB is the 3rd leading cause of death for women ages 15-44 in low and middle income countries.
- All age groups are at risk, though TB primarily affects young adults. About 80% of those crossing our southern borders in this latest wave are in this age group.
- Hardest hit are people those with compromised immune systems: HIV/AIDS, cancer, and elderly patients.
TB is spread when infected people cough or sneeze. People can inhale the bacteria-laden droplets in the air. In the crowded, hot, humid detention centers, conditions are perfect for the spread of TB—as well as dengue fever, Chagas, Ebola, chicken pox, measles, mumps, whooping cough, scabies, and lice.
After exposure to TB, the incubation period can range from 2 to 12 weeks after a positive TB skin test. Long before this incubation period is over, illegal immigrants are being shipped to communities throughout the United States, risking major spread. BCG is the vaccine for TB, but it has limited effectiveness and also destroys the usefulness of the skin test.
Symptoms of TB include fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, weakness, fatigue, and constant coughing, sneezing and spitting up blood, along with marked chest pain. If not properly treated with antibiotics, people die of loss of oxygen (asphyxiation) due to the bacteria's massive destruction of the lungs.
Border Patrol agents have already tested positive for TB. Breitbart reported on July 8 that a previously deported illegal from Guatemala with active TB infection was admitted to UMC El Paso Hospital. Cases of TB have been identified in the illegal immigrant camps in San Antonio, Austin, and El Paso, Texas, but we do not have information released on the situation for Arizona with the planeloads of illegal immigrants being shipped to Arizona from Texas.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has downplayed the risks, but anonymous nurses and doctors from Lackland AFB have come forward to say that the government is covering up a serious public health threat. One health care worker was quoted saying: "The amount of tuberculosis is astonishing. The nurses are telling us the kids are really sick."
Normally the CDC would be providing warnings and preventive steps for the public to take. This time, however, the CDC has been strangely silent. In fact, medical staff at detention centers have been threatened with criminal prosecution if they report these cases to the public or press.
This suppression of critical medical information is egregious negligence putting millions of Americans at serious risk. Americans need to demand that Congress and public officials provide answers and appropriate steps to control the spread of disease before thousands of Americans die.
Dr. Vliet is a past Director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS). She received her M.D. degree and internship in Internal Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School, and completed specialty training at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She earned her B.S. and Master’s degrees from the College of William and Mary in Virginia.