Tuberculosis halts Hmong immigration

U.S. officials said they are not sure when the Hmong will resume immigrating.

Jason Juno

The U.S. Department of State temporarily stopped the resettlement of Hmong refugees to the United States on Friday, officials said.

The refugees must wait because of tuberculosis found in some refugees in the United States and camps in Thailand.

One case has been confirmed in Minnesota, said Doug Schultz, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health.

A University student said a friend of his has family among the refugees.

“I just spoke with a friend who is supposed to have some family here on Wednesday,” senior Kong Vang said. “Now, she’s not sure what is going to happen.”

California reported 20 cases, Minnesota reported four cases and Wisconsin reported one case of tuberculosis in refugees, said Kathy Harben, spokeswoman for the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

She said additional scientists from the centers are in Thailand. They are looking at

how the camps have been affected, evaluating screening measures and making sure all tuberculosis cases are found and treated.

“As soon as we are confident the screening measures are effective, the hope is that resettlement of refugees will resume,” Harben said.

They have begun to screen people for tuberculosis, but a time frame for immigration to the United States cannot be determined, she said.

The University usually has one to two cases of tuberculosis per year, said David Golden, Boynton Health Service’s public health and marketing director. Including the recent infections, the University has not had any cases this year, he said.

The state has approximately 200 cases per year, Schultz said.

Tuberculosis is a common disease throughout the world, except in the United States, most of North America – especially Canada – and Western Europe, Golden said.

Controlling tuberculosis before infected people show symptoms and become contagious is a key reason those areas don’t have many cases, he said.

The refugees with the disease have infections in their lungs, but tuberculosis can be anywhere in the body, he said.

It is transmitted through droplets in the air, Golden said. Normally, any person in contact with an infected person is tested for the disease.

Officials ask infected people to wear masks to avoid spreading tuberculosis and to stay home, he said.

Some of the symptoms can appear similar to a cold, while some are more serious, Golden said. Symptoms include coughing, chest pain, coughing up blood, night sweats, fever, weakness and weight loss.

Tuberculosis can spread before the infected person knows he or she has it, making the infection “a big deal,” Golden said.

“It can spread through a population pretty quickly, and there’s no immunization,” he said.

Golden said tuberculosis is serious but can be treated with various types of antibiotics.

International students are tested before they arrive at the University. Students and staff members who are Boynton Health Service employees are tested yearly, Golden said.

The case should not worry Minnesotans, he said.

There is “nothing people need to do differently from before the story hit,” Golden said. “There’s nothing unusual going on now than any other time of the year.”

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.