- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

The immigration boom from Latin America and Asia that has significantly increased the population in Fairfax and Loudoun counties is also raising concerns about new tuberculosis cases in the region.

In Loudoun County, health department Director David Goodfriend said 86 percent of the 15 tuberculosis cases this year originated in foreign countries.

“Most are from Central and South America because most of the population we get is from there,” Dr. Goodfriend said.

The situation is typical of a region with a large number of immigrants, he said.

Health officials said 60 percent to 65 percent of cases in Virginia originated outside the country.

Fairfax County health officials reported that foreign-born residents had 93 percent of the 95 tuberculosis cases last year. Asians accounted for 55 percent of the cases and Hispanics accounted for 26 percent.

Some area residents recently used the numbers to argue against the opening of a center for day laborers, including illegal aliens, looking for work in the town of Herndon, which borders the two counties.

Last week, the Town Council voted in favor of the construction of a day-labor hiring site to stop workers from loitering at a 7-Eleven store.

Robert Miller, a Herndon resident and member of the American Council for Immigration Reform, was among those concerned about illegal aliens coming to the area and spreading the disease.

“It’s a definite health hazard,” said Mr. Miller, 77. “In Herndon I think we’ve got some time bombs ticking disease-wise.”

However, health officials say illegal immigrants and day laborers are not exclusive carriers of foreign-born tuberculosis.

Though more than 80 percent of day laborers surveyed in Fairfax County in 2000 were from Central American countries including Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, none of the cases in Fairfax County last year involved patients from Central America.

“The picture of your day laborer versus the picture of those individuals we had in our cohort of our cases last year is different,” said Susan Fay, the county’s communicable-disease program coordinator.

Tuberculosis is a communicable disease that usually attacks the lungs and is passed from person to person through the air. It is most commonly found in crowded countries with a high incidence of malnutrition among residents. The cost of treating a case ranges from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand dollars.

Margaret Tipple, director of the Virginia Department of Health’s division of tuberculosis control, said the disease is most prevalent in Africa, Central America, South America, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

“The important thing to remember about foreign-born individuals is they represent people who came here as legal immigrants and refugees,” Dr. Tipple said. “It includes international students and visitors. Since Northern Virginia is a bedroom community for D.C., we have plenty of international visitors who are here for weeks or months or years.”

The most recent U.S. Census figures show the population of Hispanics has more than doubled in Northern Virginia, to 198,535 in 2000. About 81 percent of illegal aliens in the United States are either from Mexico or Latin American countries, according to a study released in June by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Dr. Tipple said health officials do not keep track of the immigration status of individuals they treat for tuberculosis. She said those infected might be scared away from treatment if their immigration status were checked.

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