Experts Unsure Who is Responsible for the Latest Border Tuberculosis Scare

The U.S.-Mexico border is not unaccustomed to tuberculosis scares, but disrupting the airborne disease’s transmission is a difficult process.

By Texas StandardJune 30, 2015 2:37 pm|

The Clint Independent School District near El Paso is clamoring to process the results of a student tuberculosis screening. El Paso officials believe that nearly 160 students could have been exposed to the illness. Almost every year tuberculosis scares like this one crop up along the Texas-Mexico border. Eva Moya, a professor of social work at the University of Texas at El Paso, spoke with the Standard on why this illness has seen a resurgence along border communities.

Tuberculosis is prevalent worldwide, with about one-third of the world’s population is a carrier for Mycobacterium, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, Moya said. “Borders — not only the U.S.-Mexico or the Texas-Mexico border — are a little bit more vulnerable, because you have mobility of individuals that move between the two countries,” Moya said.

Not only people, but bacteria, can cross geography.“This is an airborne condition,” Moya said. “You cannot keep Mycobacteria on one side of the border or the other.”

Since the disease is airborne, it’s difficult to determine if any efforts exist to find a ground zero patient, Moya said. Because border areas have high volumes of human traffic, there is significant potential for a spread of the disease by those who don’t even know they have it.

“If a Mycobacterium gets into your body, primarily the lungs, it could be latent. And it could be latent, or dormant as we say, for years,” Moya said. “It gets activated, and that’s when you basically have the disease.”

The current outbreak is likely a result of inaccurate screening measures, which have allowed people with tuberculosis symptoms to go about their daily lives undiagnosed, Moya said. She said it’s essential to identify the person who started the outbreak as soon as possible. “That chain needs to be cut,” Moya said.