THE ELDERLY.Tuberculosis is more common in elderly persons. More than one-fourth of the nearly 23,000 cases of TB reported in the United States in 1995 developed in people above age 65. Many elderly patients developed the infection some years ago when the disease was more widespread. There are additional reasons for the vulnerability of older people: those living in nursing homes and similar facilities are in close contact with others who may be infected. The aging process itself may weaken the body's immune system, which is then less able to ward off the tubercle bacillus. Finally, bacteria that have lain dormant for some time in elderly persons may be reactivated and cause illness.
RACIAL AND ETHNIC GROUPS. TB also is more common in blacks, who are more likely to live under conditions that promote infection. As the end of the century approaches, two-thirds of all cases of TB in the United States affect African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and persons from the Pacific Islands. Another one-fourth of cases affect persons born outside the United States. As of 1992, the risk of TB was still increasing in all these groups.
LIFESTYLE FACTORS. The high risk of TB in AIDS patients extends to those infected by human immunodeficiencyvirus (HIV) who have not yet developed clinical signs of AIDS. Alcoholics and intravenous drug abusers are also at increased risk of contracting tuberculosis. Until the economic and social factors that influence the spread of tubercular infection are remedied, there is no real possibility of completely eliminating the disease.
David A. Cramer MD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,