Alaska has the highest TB rates in the nation

Tuberculosis rates in Alaska are reportedly among the highest in the United States, and many there who carry the potentially deadly disease are unaware that they have it.

Public health officials in the state are attempting to educate the public about the symptoms of TB so that they can recognize it before exposing others to the highly contagious illness, according to KTVA.com.

“TB is a very big problem in Alaska,” Dr. Michael Cooper, the head of the State of Alaska’s Infectious Disease Program, said, KTVA.com reports.

Alaska Natives, Pacific Islanders and Asians are at a higher risk of infection because of the isolated areas they generally come from or the higher rates of TB in their home country.

According to Cooper, many Alaskans are carriers of the latent form of the disease that shows no symptoms. They may not even be aware that they have it.

“Untreated, it has a very high mortality rate. A lot of those people will succumb to that disease,” Wendy Walters, a program manager for Diseases Prevention and Control for the Municipality of Anchorage, said, KVTA reports. “If the TB disease grows in their lungs, they could be spreading it out through simply coughing or sneezing.”

The Municipality of Anchorage provides treatment for TB free of charge, but it is a lengthy process that can take up to two years to complete.

“To treat one straightforward case of active TB disease, it requires over 50 visits for medication administration over the course of six months,” Cooper said, according to KTVA.com. “We try to get in and hit it hard, so to speak, with drug therapy [and] with monitoring."

The aggressive tactics adopted by public health officials in the state are expected to be effective as long as there is continued cooperation from Alaskans.

“Every sweep, it seems, whether it’s two different villages or the city of Anchorage, we will frequently turn up people,” Cooper said, KTVA.com reports.