Guam - Tuberculosis is a global problem and one that needs attention locally.  Our rates for TB are actually six times more of Hawaii and 12 times more of the United States as whole.  Cecilia Arciaga heads up the Department of Public Health's TB Control Program. 

TB is a disease caused by the bacterium mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.  At the top of the list in terms of stopping the spread of TB is knowing what the signs and symptoms are, for example, a prolonged cough lasting for more than two weeks, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, weakness and fatigue, fever and chills.

"These symptoms are not exclusive for TB. It could be other long term conditions like bronchitis or pneumonia. If you have this, make sure to see your doctor to get yourself check or re-evaluated," she said.

TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with active TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected. In order to detect whether one truly has TB, testing is required.  "The skin test," Arciaga explained, "if you're exposed to someone with active TB, you will have an induration of a bump there. We have to measure that within 48 to 72 hours and it's really necessary for the child or the faculty to be in for the timely PPD test reading."

With last year's TB scare in the island's public schools, Arciaga can't stress enough the importance of ensuring tests are up to date. She also advises that when experiencing the signs and symptoms of TB to see your doctor. 

"Skin test is not really required every year for students," she said.  "It is required upon entry to school. But what is important is that when you have signs and symptoms of TB to see your doctor, get checked and have it evaluated.  You can test a student every year or ever six months but that doesn't mean anything. Anything can happen in between. It's truly, truly important to educate the community on the signs and symptoms of TB and get yourself checked. Don't wait."

For more information on tuberculosis, call Public Health's TB Program Office at 735-7157 or 7131.