Rare Form of Tuberculosis Reappears in California

June 17, 2008 07:58 AM
by Rachel Balik
A nearly obsolete strain of TB crops up among Hispanic immigrants consuming unpasteurized dairy products.

30-Second Summary

The Mycobacterium bovis tuberculosis strain was essentially purged from the United States in the early 1900s, but it’s on the rise in southern California among Hispanic immigrant populations who produce and consume “bathtub cheese.” Families use milk from cattle in Mexico, where 17 percent of herds are infected with what researchers call a “disease of antiquity.”

Most of the cases reported involve children who have eaten unpasteurized, infected dairy products. Some families are also making a living by selling queso fresco from street carts. The cheese they sell is produced in bathtubs or in troughs in backyards. Often the milk has been smuggled in from Mexico and carries disease. Anyone who purchases this street cheese can be affected. Demand is high: 108 millions pounds of legal queso fresco was produced last year in California.

Scientists want to attack the disease before it spreads further. Although it is not transmitted as easily as regular TB with coughing, breathing and touching, it is typically resistant to drug therapy. “It is important that it not be allowed to re-emerge as a cause of TB in this country,” said Timothy Rodwell, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Doctors are also participating in an initiative to treat TB on both sides of the Mexican-U.S. border.

Headline Link: Tainted cheese fuels TB rise in California

Related Topic: Tuberculosis in Mexico

Reference: Preventing the spread of M. bovis and other forms of TB


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