World TB Day 2014 is on March 24, and this annual event commemorates the date in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch announced his discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacillus that causes TB.

Why then, since the number of reported tuberculosis cases in the United States is at an all-time low from when national reporting began in 1953, is TB still of major public health concern?

Worldwide, tuberculosis remains a critical health problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that in 2012 there were some 8.6 million new cases, and that 1.3 million people died from TB. WHO further estimates that about 3 million people falling ill with the disease are currently being missed by health systems, and that 3 out of 4 multi-drug resistant cases still remain undiagnosed and untreated. TB occurs in every part of the world. Although nearly 68% of new 2012 cases occurred in Asia, no country has eliminated the disease.

Why does this worldwide situation impact the U.S.? There are several reasons:

  • As part of the world community, U.S. citizens – through travel – have ready access to global destinations and interaction with local populations. In the U.S., the rate of TB disease is decreasing, but 63% of the total reported TB cases are diagnosed in foreign-born people.
  • Budgetary constraints have decreased appropriations for new TB control research and development initiatives. According to an October 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal, funding for research and development of new TB drugs declined by 4.6% in 2012 after rising annually from 2005 to 2011. In recent years, manufacturer-reported shortages of both TB testing and treatment medications had the potential of failure to identify persons with tuberculosis, therefore raising the possibility of their infecting others.
  • Additionally, the emergence and proliferation of multi-drug resistant TB throughout the world may well affect the U.S. in the foreseeable future.

In selecting, “Find TB. Treat TB. Working Together to Eliminate TB”, as its theme for World TB Day 2014, CDC is aiming to raise public awareness to a very real and relevant community health concern.