Reported TB cases drop in US amid COVID-19

Doctor studying chest x-ray
Doctor studying chest x-ray

Chinnapong / iStock

Reported tuberculosis (TB) diagnoses in the United States fell 20% in 2020 and remained 13% lower in 2021 than TB diagnoses made prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported yesterday, while a study today highlights disparities in at-home COVID testing.

Almost 7,900 TB cases in 2021

Before the pandemic, TB diagnoses declined by 1% to 2% each year. Mask use and distancing measures—aimed at preventing COVID spread—likely also limited TB transmission, the CDC said. TB infections were also likely missed as healthcare visits dropped during the first months of the pandemic.

Moreover, some people with TB may have been evaluated and tested for COVID-19, and not TB, and thus did not receive appropriate treatment.

"Delayed or missed tuberculosis disease diagnoses are threatening the health of people with TB disease and the communities where they live," said Philip LoBue, director of CDC’s Division of Tuberculosis Elimination in a press release. "The nation must ensure that healthcare providers understand how to diagnose and distinguish TB disease from potential cases of COVID-19."

A total of 7,860 TB cases were reported in 2021, and 56 US cases of multidrug-resistant TB were confirmed in 2020, the CDC said in a fact sheet. The agency also noted 526 deaths attributed to the disease in 2019, the most recent year for which data were available.

At-home test use is mixed bag

Americans over the age of 75, Black Americans, and those with a high school degree or less were not as likely to use free at-home COVID-19 tests as other groups, according to a study today by CDC and other US scientists in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Though overall at-home test use more than tripled—from 5.7% during the Delta-predominant period (Aug 23 to Dec 11, 2021) to 20.1% during the Omicron-predominant period (Dec 19, 2021 to Mar 12, 2022) —testing use differed by age, race, and education level.

"Persons who identified as White were approximately twice as likely to report at-home test use (5.9%) compared with those who identified as Black (2.8%)," the researchers noted.

"Providing reliable and low-cost or free at-home test kits to underserved populations with otherwise limited access to COVID-19 testing could assist with continued prevention efforts."

Mask wearing in healthcare facilities

In other CDC news, yesterday the agency updated its masking guidance, and said people visiting healthcare facilities are allowed to wear highly protective masks such as N95s, Politico reports. The move comes after Politico reported that some hospitals were asking visitors to wear surgical masks instead of their own N95s.

The announcement comes 1 day after the White House acknowledged that COVID-19 is primarily spread via aerosols.

The United States reported 44,134 new COVID-19 cases yesterday and 1,033 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker.

The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows that 65.4% of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 76.8% have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 44.6% of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose.

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