JONESBORO, Ark. – Public health officials are warning health care workers and individuals in northeast Arkansas about a cluster of tuberculosis cases in the region.

Officials with the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University said six cases have been recorded in Craighead County this year. This is after 27 cases were recorded between 2021 and 2023, over half of them requiring hospitalization, including several children.

Hospitalization indicates a serious infection, officials said.  

Arkansas Department of Health infectious disease physician and assistant tuberculosis controller Dr. Sandra Chai spoke about the potentially larger number of infections.

“This is a large cluster,” Chai said.  “We suspect that there are undetected cases of active and latent tuberculosis related to this cluster. We need our healthcare providers to help us find them so we can treat them.”  

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that primarily impacts the respiratory system. It is airborne, meaning it is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets that spread when an infected person talks, sings, coughs, or sneezes.  

Symptoms of infection include persistent cough of more than two to three weeks duration, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, and night sweats. TB can cause serious illness and can be fatal if untreated, officials said.

Jonesboro medical director, Craighead County health officer and dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine Dr. Shane Speights said at this time of year it would be possible to mistake a TB infection for something less serious.

“Healthcare providers, as well as the general public, need to be aware of the current prevalence of tuberculosis in our region,” Speights said. “Because we’re at the beginning [of] cold and flu season, it can be easy to confuse tuberculosis with other respiratory illnesses, but with the potential seriousness of the infection, we need both patients and providers to be alert so we can properly identify cases.”

Speights asked that anyone who suspects being exposed or infected get tested, either by their health care provider or the Craighead County Health Unit