TB: Latest ‘invisible invader’ accompanying refugees

By Elizabeth Lee Vliet, M.D.

Americans are concerned about rising threats of terrorism following events in the U.S. and overseas, as presumptive nominee for the Republican Party Donald Trump has outlined clearly for the past year. Such national security concerns are very real: There is a dramatic rise in illegal border crossers coming into the U.S. via both our southern and northern borders. Border Patrol sources estimate that more than 75 percent of illegals continue to come from countries other than Mexico, including countries with state-sponsored terror groups. More than 85 percent are males aged 18-45, in contrast to past patterns including women and children.

Yet there is another serious threat to Americans not being adequately disclosed to the public by government agencies and most media outlets: the invisible invaders traveling with humans that carry bacterial, viral and fungal diseases rare or eradicated in the United States.

There are four key reasons this disease threat is very serious:

  • Threat of illness and death to Americans, particularly unvaccinated U.S. children and elderly with diminished immune response.
  • Markedly higher costs to American taxpayers for free medical care to treat the refugees and illegal border crossers, who are given Medicaid benefits designed for low-income citizens. Dollars to fund the Medicaid expansion were cut from a Medicare budget designed to serve elderly over 65 and disabled under age 65.
  • Delay in access to medical care for Americans when Medicaid facilities and hospital ERs are overused and crowded with refugees and illegal border crossers.
  • Economic and productivity impact in the workplace and schools due to lost time due to illness.

In 2014 I wrote three separate nationally released articles on the risks of these disease issues to alert Americans of the new threats. That same year, the Centers for Disease Control warned its own workers to expect a rise in tuberculosis and other infectious diseases in the refugees and detention centers for illegals.

But CDC, charged with protecting Americans from spread of serious disease, did not make this information public. Thus, the American public was unaware of the disease danger lurking in their communities and schools.

Breitbart reported May 17 that 22 percent of resettled refugees in Minnesota tested positive for tuberculosis (TB). This is an enormous rate of increase over the 4 percent positive TB test rate in the U.S. general population. It is significant that this 2016 article comes two years after the CDC and Minnesota State Department of Health were aware of the risk to Americans in Minnesota and beyond. Why has this public health threat not been disclosed to the public sooner?

TB has now exceeded HIV/AIDS as the leading infectious disease cause of death worldwide. People with both HIV/AIDS and TB face a 20 percent higher risk of death from the combined effects of both diseases. Foreign-born persons are the largest group of TB carriers in the U.S.: CDC in 2014 reported a rate of TB in foreign-born persons 13 times higher than the rate in U.S.-born people.

The most serious and most difficult to treat form of TB is multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). Consistent with the rise in illegals and refugees, MDR-TB has increased from 25.3 percent among foreign-born individuals in 1993 to over 86 percent in 2012. This is a staggering impact on both costs for taxpayers and threat of disease outbreaks across the U.S.

Alarmingly for both disease and economic risk, it is the MDR-TB that is the most common form identified in the incoming refugees and illegal border crossers. In part that is because MDR-TB is the most common form seen in other countries with less sophisticated public health services to treat early milder cases of TB.

Over 50 percent of the active TB cases in the U.S. are found in just four states that also have the highest number of foreign-born people – New York, Florida, California and Texas. The governors of Florida and Texas have reasonably and understandably refused federal demands to resettle more refugees in their states as a result of the disease and other cost burdens to taxpayers.

TB is particularly difficult, costly and labor-intensive to treat, even in its less serious form. I reported in 2014 that CDC figures (in 2010 dollars) show the cost and time impact varies greatly, based on the type of disease:

  • TB, responsive to first line Rx: cost per patient: $17,000 over 6-9 months to treat.
  • MDR-TB: cost per patient: $134,000, takes 20-26 months to treat.
  • Extreme MDR-TB: cost per patient: $430,000, takes 32-36 months to treat.

A large-scale outbreak of MDR-TB in the U.S. could lead to a public health crisis and economic impact on the medical system, plus loss of productivity in the workplace that would cost billions of dollars.

Based on this CDC cost data, even though estimates are in 2010 dollars, it is clearly a staggering economic burden on American taxpayers to treat TB alone, much less all the other infectious diseases now coming into our country, such as Zika virus, Chagas disease, “flesh-eating” leishmaniasis and others.

Shelley Kais, candidate for Arizona Senate for LD 2, and a certified federal financial analyst, said, “What most Americans don’t yet understand is that the arrival of tens of thousands of Central Americans along the Southwest border is no surprise: not to the president, not to the federal government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), not to the many other federal agencies whose budgets have increased in recent years in preparation for it, and not to Congress, which approves those budgets. I reached this conclusion following a thorough analysis of budgets for the Department of Health and Human Services and discovered compelling evidence that our president, executive agencies – even Congress – knew about and planned for the illegal immigrants now flooding our border.”

Again, Donald Trump is right. Americans are being kept in the dark by our own federal government about risks to our lives. Americans need to be informed of these risks to both national security, public health and our economy.

Trump has effectively raised public awareness of the economic and national security threats we face that CDC and most media have failed to report fully.

If we now add the dramatic rise in the “fast-tracking” of refugee resettlements across the United States, without local input or agreement on the burdens to communities until after refugees are already settled, we see a “perfect storm” being created:

  • Dramatic rise in cost in dollars and labor to treat new infectious diseases.
  • Further explosion in the already staggering level of federal debt, plus dramatic rise in state and municipal debt to cover exploding medical costs.
  • A crisis imposed on our medical system to care for the influx of infectious disease patients, at a time of hospitals closing and doctors going out of business due to the adverse impact of Obamacare. These new demands could lead to a collapse of our health-care system that will jeopardize medical care for millions of Americans.
  • An incalculable financial burden for business with lost productivity of employees due to illness

Without adequate medical testing that is a cornerstone of legal immigration screening, we cannot ensure the safety of the American people as the tsunami of illegal border crossers flood our borders and refugees from countries with widespread infectious diseases are resettled in communities across the U.S.

It is time for politicians and government officials to put AMERICA FIRST for public health and safety. Stop plundering America’s resources and putting Americans at risk to take care of the entire world.

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