Pima County will temporarily halt routine tuberculosis screenings beginning April 15.
The screenings, which cost $15 per person regardless of insurance, are expected to resume once a national shortage of the Tubersol solution for skin testing is resolved, Pima County Health Department Officials say.
The health department typically does about 425 routine screenings per month, said Brad McKinney, a senior program manager with the health department.
The department will continue testing people who have symptoms of tuberculosis (TB), he stressed.
The county is acting conservatively in order to ensure there is enough Tubersol in stock in the event that an outbreak occurs, McKinney said. Other health departments in the state and around the country have taken similar actions.
"By temporarily suspending routine screening for work, school or in-home child-care businesses, the Health Department will ensure sufficient stock of Tubersol for testing those with symptoms, individuals from countries with high incidence of TB or those who have compromised immunity," health department Director Dr. Francisco Garcia said in a prepared statement.
Routine TB skin testing is available through other providers in the community, including Concentra, Minute Clinic, Sunnyside Medi Center, Take Care Clinic and U.S. Health Works. Those providers may charge slightly more.
TB skin testing is also available through local community health-care centers, but you may need to be an established client first.
TB is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which usually attacks the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body. If not properly treated, TB can be fatal.
It is spread through the air from one person to another, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with active tuberculosis of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.
There were 28 cases of TB reported in Pima County in 2011, and 10,528 nationwide. Yuma, Pinal and Apache counties have the highest rates of TB in Arizona.
While TB has declined in the U.S., it remains a major problem globally. One third of the world's population is infected with TB, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. In 2011, nearly 9 million people around the world became sick with TB disease. There were around 1.4 million TB-related deaths worldwide.
It's unclear when the shortage will be over, but the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists on April 1 said Sanofi Pasteur has Tubersol on back order with an estimated release date of May.
On StarNet: Stephanie Innes brings you the latest health information in her blog, Tucson Health and Wellness, at go.azstarnet.com/health
For more information about tuberculosis screening in Pima County, call the health department's tuberculosis clinic at 243-8450.
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4134. On Twitter: @stephanieinnes