Progress toward the elimination of tuberculosis in the United States has been stalled by significant racial and ethnic disparities often masked by state- and national-level data, researchers say.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 88% of reported tuberculosis (TB) cases in the US are among racial and ethnic minority groups.

“There has been a lot of advancement in controlling tuberculosis, especially in resourceful countries such as the US,” says Maheen Humayun, a doctoral student in the epidemiology department at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and first author of the study in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“But when you separate the data by race and ethnicity, you see that the burden of TB among racial/ethnic minorities is remarkably high, often as high as in high-burden countries.”

The researchers conducted a disaggregated analysis of TB surveillance data using detailed racial/ethnic categorizations in the state of Arkansas.

The study found that Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders had the highest risk of TB in Arkansas, followed by Asian, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic Black populations, when compared to non-Hispanic whites.

Furthermore, the research findings suggest that these racial and ethnic minorities in Arkansas were also more likely to have advanced and severe disease, suggesting inequitable access to timely and adequate TB treatment and care.

“If we really want to make the final push toward TB elimination, we will have to understand the TB epidemic as a health equity issue,” Humayun says. “The low statewide aggregated estimates are misleading as they mask the underlying disparities that potentially fuel the remaining TB epidemic in Arkansas.”

Nationally, rates of TB in the US have decreased over the last three decades. While the US is considered a country of low TB incidence overall, populations that have been socially and historically marginalized continue to bear a disproportionate burden of the disease.

Read the full article about racial data disparities by Destiny Cook at Futurity.