Tuberculosis And Refugees? Backlash Follows "Investigative" Report Into Health Risk

Anya Wassenberg

Tuberculosis and the potential health risk posed by refugees became a hot topic after a story aired by a Fargo, North Dakota TV station Monday. The story, which Valley News Live called an investigative report, alleged that tuberculosis infected refugees in North Dakota and Minnesota represent a threat to the health of virtually all its citizens – but local health experts disagree.

The televised report features a text graphic that asks "Could Kindness Be Bad For Your Health?" A print version of the report is unequivocal in its conclusions.

"Our own investigation has found that everyone, U.S. born or foreign born, who lives in a refugee resettlement area is at risk for contracting tuberculosis."

However, when reporters asked Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, the agency responsible for resettling refugees in the state, their reply does not support the TV station's contention – as quoted in their own report.

"We know active TB condition is an inadmissible condition to enter the United States and all of our refugees are properly screened prior to the admission, we do not see active TB as a health risk."

Tuberculosis is a potentially lethal lung disease, spread by bacteria and close contact with an infected person. It kills 1.5 million people globally each year.

The CDC released a report on tuberculosis on March 25, 2016, noting that after two decades of decline, the incidence of TB plateaued during from 2013 to 2015. The rate of tuberculosis has leveled off at roughly three cases per 100,000. Looking at the actual numbers, there was a very slight increase from 9,406 cases in 2014 to 9,563 cases in 2015 – not enough to change the rate of incidence. Put into perspective, during the 1950s, there were about 60,000 cases of TB annually in the U.S.

The slight increase in cases of tuberculosis from 2014 to 2015 cannot be directly linked to refugees. The incidence of TB is higher overall among foreign-born U.S. residents; however, the incidence of tuberculosis among refugees has actually decreased. There has been an increase in cases among people born in the United States.

Refugees are screened for tuberculosis and other serious illnesses both prior and after entry in the U.S. Fowzia Adde, a refugee from Somalia who lives in West Fargo, N.D. explains in the Fargo Forum report.

"They take a picture of your lungs... they take your blood, they check if you have HIV, they check you all. You go through health testing and then when you come to Fargo, again they put you through health testing."

"You know, it's like people just having a disease become an entertainment for them."

[Image by Giovanni Cancemi/Shutterstock]