Experts Discuss TB Threat in Hawaii

By Kristine Uyeno

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Doctors continue to treat an Atlanta lawyer for a dangerous strain of tuberculosis.

This incident causes some concerns in Hawaii.

Lawmakers and medical experts gathered to discuss the issue.

It's a disease that claims over a million lives every year. Hawaii has the highest number of new tuberculosis cases, per capita, in the United States.

"And as you know we have cruise ships that come here weekly, we have flights that come in here everyday," said Rep. John Mizuno, (D) Kalihi Valley, Moanalua, Fort Shafter.

Pacific Medical Outreach wants to reduce the number of TB cases. The group is developing a prototype for mobile equipment that would rapidly screen, test and treat TB patients, especially those who live in remote areas where this disease is usually found.

"But if you can find these people from x-rays you'd have a cheap, simple treatment and save millions of lives," said Raoul Hagen, radiology expert.

Some local lawmakers believe more can be done here to prevent the spread of the disease.

"Many of our food establishments, food vendors, I don't believe they have a check for TB. That's something we might want to implement," said Mizuno.

In Hawaii, experts say TB won't really affect more people than it did 50 years ago, but it has the potential to.

"And there's no reason why we shouldn't be TB-free," said Hagen.

These experts also believe the spread of TB can be prevented through education.

They say people need to understand how this disease is transmitted, how to recognize its symptoms and the importance of regular screening.