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Tuberculosis Outbreak In Alabama’s Poorest County

Marion, AL, is experiencing a severe tuberculosis outbreak, reported the¬†New York Times. The incidence rate is about 100 times greater than the state’s and worse than that of many developing countries.

The popularity of holistic methods such as the use of essential oils, which have been utilized for 6,000 years and experienced a recent revival, may be accountable for some instance of the deliberate refusal of modern medicine and doctors. However, in Marion, no such luxury is at fault for the spread of tuberculosis in the largely black and poor community. Endemic poverty, lack of access to health care and mistrust of health care systems are cited as reasons for the outbreak, according to residents and medical experts.

Dr. Allen Perkins, a former president of the Alabama Rural Health Association said, “There’s not a culture of care-seeking behavior unless your really sick.

Marion, a city of less than 3,600 people, has seen 20 positive TB diagnoses since January 2014, including three fatalities. Six people in other Alabama cities have been diagnosed and are linked to the Marion outbreak.

Two dozen others have been infected, but have not exhibited symptoms, and are easily and effectively treated. Officials expect that number to increase as more people are tested.

Suspicion of health authorities may be at the root of the infections wide distribution and longevity: authorities say that patients were reluctant to disclose their contacts to public health officials. This is linked to suspicions that health officials will in turn report illegal activities to law enforcement and fears of ostracization and stigmatization in the small community of Marion.

Some of the wariness when it comes to medical professionals and their trade may have been handed down from the notorious history of medical experiments in Tuskegee, AL, in 1932. Poor black men were infected with syphilis and not given complete disclosure about the experiment they were a part of. While 63% of Marion residents are black, many say they know little of Tuskegee but do note that their suspicions had been handed down for generations.

The Huffington Post reports that a CDC grant will fund the local health department to pay $20 to anyone who comes to get tested for TB, $20 for keeping a chest X-ray appointment if needed, and $100 as an incentive for a patient to take medication. The cash incentive seemed to make a different: more than 1,000 people in Perry Country have gotten tested.