Background: One third of the world's population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and in the developed countries immigration is a major force that sustains the incidence of tuberculosis. We studied the effects of immigration on the epidemiology of tuberculosis and its recent resurgence in the United States.
Methods: We analyzed data from the national tuberculosis reporting system of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 1986 reports of tuberculosis have included the patient's country of origin. Population estimates for foreign-born persons were derived from special samples from the 1980 and 1990 censuses.
Results: The proportion of persons reported to have tuberculosis who were foreign-born increased from 21.6 percent (4925 cases) in 1986 to 29.6 percent (7346 cases) in 1993. For the entire eight-year period, most foreign-born patients with tuberculosis were from Latin America (43.9 percent; 21,115 cases) and Southeast Asia (34.6 percent; 16,643 cases). Among foreign-born persons the incidence rate was almost quadruple the rate for native residents of the United States (30.6 vs. 8.1 per 100,000 person-years), and 55 percent of immigrants with tuberculosis had the condition diagnosed in their first five years in the United States.
Conclusions: Immigration has had an increasingly important effect on the epidemiology of tuberculosis in the United States. It will be difficult to eliminate tuberculosis without better efforts to prevent and control it among immigrants and greater efforts to control it in the countries from which they come.