Troy students tested in wake of TB exposure

Published 10:57 pm Monday, November 7, 2011

One individual is in isolation and as many as 200 other people will be tested in the wake of a suspected case of tuberculosis in a Troy University student.

Officials with the Alabama Department of Public Health worked with Troy University officials Monday to inform the public and students about what is being done to follow-up the suspected case of pulmonary tuberculosis identified in a Troy University student on Nov. 4.

“The sooner we identify any students who have been in close contact (with the suspected TB victim), the sooner we can start treatment,” said Pam Barrett, Tuberculosis Control Division director.

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Tuberculosis is a disease that usually affects the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, spine and kidneys. If untreated it can cause death. TB is highly contagious as germs are spread from person-to-person through the air.

Barrett said the student was identified as possibly having tuberculosis and the health department is waiting for additional testing to confirm the diagnosis. Meanwhile, the health department is notifying and testing any individuals who would have come in close contact with the suspected victim.

In this case, the health department identifies close contact as being near the infected individual for an extended period of time or for several hours. “Close contact would include anyone in class with the student or who has been on a trip with the student,” said Herbert Reeves, dean of students.

As of late Monday, university officials said 150 people had been tested and officials said they expected upwards of 200 students to be tested. The screening involves both a skin test and a blood test. A positive skin test indicates that a person has been infected with TB but does not indicate the disease is active. A blood test and further testing will confirm if the TB has progressed to an active disease.

“It normally takes three to four days to get results back, sometimes three to four weeks,” Barrett said. “In this case (we’re) hoping for results by the end of the week.”

Symptoms of active TB include coughing, night sweats and weight loss.

The officials said only students who were in close contact with the sick student need to be tested at this point and university officials are working to identify and inform those students. The university also sent a mass email to all students, faculty and staff Monday morning alerting them to the situation. Reeves said the email had generated only two responses by 3 p.m. Monday.

The university also held a town hall meeting for students on Monday afternoon, sharing information about the incident and the ongoing testing. During the meeting, officials with the ADPH shared information about tuberculosis and the process of testing.

According to statistics from the ADPH, 146 new cases of TB were reported in 2010, including one in Pike County.

Tuberculosis is a worldwide pandemic. More than 1.7 million people worldwide died from TB in 2009. According to the World Health Organization, among the 15 countries with the highest incidence rates, 13 are in Africa. More than a third of all new cases are in India and China. More than 2 million people worldwide are infected with the TB bacilli, the microbes that cause TB. One in every 10 of those people will become sick with active TB in his or her lifetime. Each person with active TB can infect on average 10 to 15 people a year.