Does Fear of Immigration Authorities Deter Tuberculosis Patients from Seeking Care?

Published in: Western Journal of Medicine, v. 161, no. 4, 1994, p. 373-376

by Steven M. Asch, Barbara Leake, Lillian Gelberg

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Physician groups are concerned that legislation requiring physicians to report illegal immigrants to immigration authorities will delay curative care. In particular, patients with tuberculosis may delay seeking care for infectious symptoms and spread the disease. The authors surveyed 313 consecutive patients with active tuberculosis from 95 different facilities to examine the relationship of immigration-related variables, symptoms, and delay in seeking care. Most patients (71%) sought care for symptoms rather than as a result of the efforts of public health personnel to screen high-risk groups or to trace contacts of infectious persons. At least 20% of respondents lacked legal documents allowing them to reside in the United States. Few (6%) feared that going to a physician might lead to trouble with immigration authorities. Those who did were almost 4 times as likely to delay seeking care for more than 2 months, a period of time likely to result in disease transmission. Patients potentially exposed an average of 10 domestic and workplace contacts during the course of the delay. Any legislation that increases undocumented immigrants' fear that health care professionals will report them to immigration authorities may exacerbate the current tuberculosis epidemic.

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