TB on the Rise
By Karen Haave
An uptick in the number of Tuberculosis (TB) cases nationwide has alarmed a Will County Board member, who wants to quell the disease many have thought was eradicated.
Julie Berkowicz, Will County Board District 10, is working to bring awareness about the infection that, if untreated, can be fatal. It is contagious and is caused by bacteria that can spread when a person, who is infected, coughs, sneezes, or sings. Most often, it affects the lungs, but also can affect the kidneys, brain, or spine.
For Berkowicz, the effort is personal.
“TB has touched my family,” she explained.
“My grandfather, who lived in the Philippines, died of TB in the Philippines. He was refused entry to the United States due to being sick from TB. The U.S. Government did what they needed to do to protect their citizens back then.
“Today, it is a battle to keep our residents protected and healthy when we can’t control migration into the country. I became aware of this health crisis at a Will County Public Health and Safety committee meeting in July,” she said.
“At that meeting, Dr. Joyce Reliford-Parker, administrator, and Dr. Dan Garganera, medical director, of the Sunny Hill TB Clinic gave a brief presentation. They shared the pressing issues the clinic is facing and asked the board for help.
“I immediately told them I wanted to help.”
According to Dr. Reliford-Parker’s report, the number of known TB cases has risen by more than 10 percent this year, and the mortality rate is over 14 percent.
“TB is coming into the United States, over every border, from people all over the world, including Ukraine, Africa, and Mexico,” Berkowicz noted. “Because many of the infections in Will County cannot be tracked and people are not documented or tested for diseases, the actual number of TB cases is not known.
“There is also a latent population that is carrying Tuberculosis and may not get sick until their immunity is further weakened. In the meantime, they can spread it unknowingly, because TB is an airborne disease.
“Another challenge is that there are shortages of the medication for treating TB. These medicines are made in China and India. TB cannot be cured if the patient does not complete the treatment or if the patient misses a dose of medicine.
“Finally, TB is often misdiagnosed. There are doctors and medical staff who do not believe we have TB in the county. Often, a doctor may not think to test for TB, and they treat the patient for pneumonia or bronchitis.”
Berkowicz said active TB is a disease where immediate medications and care is necessary. Symptoms include
- Persistent cough lasting more than two weeks
- Cough with blood in sputum
- Fever for more than two weeks
- Pain in chest
Berkowicz said she toured the Sunny Hill TB Clinic with Dr. Reliford-Parker and Dr. Garganera, where she viewed medical diagnostic equipment, machinery, and the labs.
“I was stunned to find out we have TB cases in my district in northern Will County, including Naperville, Bolingbrook, Aurora, and Romeoville,” she said.
“We sat down and discussed the many challenges the clinic faces. I was amazed and impressed by the personal care and love the staff gives their patients and their patients’ families. I promised the dedicated staff at the clinic that I was going to do everything I can to help them reach the community.
“Together, we developed a plan to coordinate screenings with the intent of reaching more people in the community.”
Their first endeavor was to participate at the Will County Fair in Peotone on August 24. Berkowicz personally manned the Sunny Hill TB Clinic table, along with nurses and staff, to provide information.
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