The national media covered tuberculosis carrier Andrew Speaker wall-to-wall earlier this month. That hubbub has died down, but TB scares across the country continue. Why no follow-up on this national health crisis? Because calling attention to it might earn you the wrath of Geraldo, Lindsey Graham, Linda Chavez, President Bush, and the rest of the bigot card-players.
So be it.
Take a look at the latest case in Greenville, S.C.:
The number of workers exposed to tuberculosis at a Greenville, S.C., chicken plant has grown to 131, but state health officials cautioned Tuesday only one is suspected of having an active form of the infectious disease.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control began testing employees at the House of Raeford Farms plant late last month after the agency was told about the infected worker. So far, 286 employees who have been in contact with the worker have been tested.
The percentage of positive cases is believed to be high because many of the plant’s employees come from other countries where the disease may be more prevalent, said agency spokesman Thom Berry.
Translation: Illegal aliens. Or, as President Bush calls them, “newcomers.” Or, as Harry Reid calls them, “undocumented Americans.” Whatever you call them, they are people who have not been screened for infectious disease before entering the country. The Charlotte Observer reports that “more than 60 percent of line workers in the chicken industry are Hispanic. And experts say most of the workers probably entered the U.S. already infected.”
While not considered an immediate threat to Greenville residents, the number of infected workers reflects a concern about a growing health threat: immigrants increasingly carrying TB to the U.S.
“It’s become more of an imported disease,” said Dr. Jason Stout, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University who serves as one of North Carolina’s tuberculosis consultants.
House of Raeford employs about 650 workers at its Greenville plant who process chicken for stores and fast-food restaurants. Many of the workers live in small neighborhoods surrounding the plant.
Foreign-born residents accounted for 55 percent of TB cases nationwide in 2005 — the last year for which statistics were available. The greatest number of foreign born cases, 25 percent, or 1,942 cases, came from Mexico, followed by the Philippines, Vietnam, and India. In 1993, foreign-born residents made up 29 percent of reported TB cases.
Every year, thousands of illegal immigrants come to the Carolinas to work in poultry, construction and other industries. But undocumented workers are not the only ones entering the United States without being tested for TB. While refugees receive the tests, many immigrants traveling on tourist, business and student visas do not, according to experts.
“That is a major problem,” said Carol Pozsik, CEO of the National TB Controllers Association…
But not, apparently, worth the tabloid headlines and nightly updates that TB carrier Andrew Speaker received.