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U.S.-Born Black Migrant Workers Face High TB Risk, Study Says

April 3, 1991

CHICAGO (AP) _ Black migrant farm workers face a far higher risk of tuberculosis than the overall U.S. population, a study published today said.

The rate of tuberculosis cases nationwide is about 10 per 100,000 people, or .01 percent. The rate for U.S.-born migrant farm workers in five North Carolina counties studies was 3.6 percent, said researchers who did the study at the University of North Carolina.

Their findings were based on a 1988 study of 543 white, Hispanic, black and Haitian migrant farm workers in five North Carolina counties and were reported in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

In eastern North Carolina, TB rates are especially high, researchers noted.

″Among non-white men in the same age group as those in the study, the annual incidence of TB from 1984 to 1986 was 97.5 per 100,000 persons,″ they said.

Tuberculosis is a lung infection in which lesions form in the lungs and impede breathing. The CDC recorded 23,720 tuberculosis cases last year, with more reports coming in.

The total is already higher than that for 1989, which saw the biggest jump in tuberculosis reporting since the CDC began counting in 1953.

A farm association spokesman called the new report surprising.

″This is the first time the disparity has been brought to our attention,″ said Jack King, a spokesman for the American Farm Bureau Federation, headquartered in suburban Park Ridge. ″We haven’t had any report of unusual health problems with TB.

″We are aware of health care delivery problems in rural areas and that is a concern of all farmers,″ King said Tuesday in a telephone interview. ″Frankly, I am surprised at the disproportionate number of black workers with TB.″

Blacks and Hispanics were the only ethnic groups where active disease was found, said researchers led by Dr. Stephen Ciesielski of the university’s Department of Parasitology and Laboratory Practice in Chapel Hill.

A 1985 report by the national Centers for Disease Control considered tuberculosis an imported problem among farm workers.

But the researchers said results of their new study ″indicate that TB among farm workers is an occupational problem, not an imported one.″

The researchers recommended reforms to reduce the problem, including providing more money for migrant health care facilities and more stringent enforcement of migrant labor laws.

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