New York City Struggles To Contain Tuberculosis Spike

Even as New York City attempts to handle 125,000 unvetted migrants pouring in, officials report a sudden spike in tuberculosis cases. This sparked concerns that a disease that was prevalent a century ago is making a comeback.

There are reportedly as many as 500 new cases so far in 2023 in the Big Apple. This marks a dramatic 20% surge in diagnoses from just a year ago and the highest figure reported in 10 years.

Besides the obvious possibility of disease transported in by illegal migrants, some experts attribute the rise to COVID-19 fatigue. This is the phenomenon of people avoiding doctors’ offices and clinics in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Still, it is difficult to overlook the possibility that TB cases are the result of the deluge of newcomers. Then there’s the possibility of spreading elsewhere.

Elizabeth Lovinger, a health policy director with the Treatment Action Group, noted this connection. “When there are particularly high spikes in TB and other infectious diseases in New York City, that tends to be kind of a bellwether for the rest of the country.”

Lovinger added that the new numbers are “definitely a more dramatic resurgence than we would have probably expected.”

Dr. Bruce Hirsch is an infectious disease specialist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York. He told the New York Post that when COVID-19 began in the U.S., it was in New York City. “It was an explosion.”

He pointed an accusing finger at housing shortages along with a decline in public health infrastructure. Hirsch said living conditions are becoming crowded and there is insufficient staffing for public health.

The expert lamented that healthcare in prisons is often better than what free people have available. Plus, “TB is sneaky and it’s persistent — and it’s well adapted to human beings.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and mandatory isolation dropped the number of TB cases in New York City, but that tally rose sharply in its aftermath. Cases quickly surpassed pre-pandemic levels, and experts believe the nation’s largest city is critically unprepared for an outbreak.

It has three TB clinics and waits for testing and treatment may last up to a week. This disturbing information came from anonymous employees with the NYC Department of Health’s Bureau of Tuberculosis Control.

Without quick treatment, TB becomes harder to treat and the likelihood of the infection spreading to others greatly increases.