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  • Health Department investigates case of active tuberculosis disease at local school

    Tuberculosis Control and Prevention Program identifies persons exposed and acts to prevent further cases

    TB LogoMay 4, 2018 - Students and staff at a local school were found to have been exposed to tuberculosis (TB) after a student attended class regularly before being diagnosed with active tuberculosis (TB) disease of the lungs. The Pima County Health Department TB Control and Prevention Program, in collaboration with school health officials identified, evaluated and tested 107 exposed students and staff. The parents of the students who were exposed to TB were notified about the issue and offered evaluation and testing.

     In order to prevent anyone at the school from developing TB disease, TB Program staff conducted a routine contact investigation, which consisted of two phases. The first phase, completed in January 2018 consisted of identifying, notifying, and offering testing to those exposed. The second phase was completed in February 2018 consisted of the second round of testing to confirm the results of the first test. Dr. Carlos Perez-Velez, Director of the TB Control and Prevention Program, reported that “The Health Department is very happy that no one was found to have developed active TB disease.” Since January, those found to have latent TB infection have been offered preventative treatment.

    TB is caused by a bacterium, called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which usually attacks the lungs. The TB bacteria can be spread when a person with active TB disease in the lungs coughs and another person inhales respiratory droplets containing the bacteria. Not everyone who becomes infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. As a result, two TB-related conditions exist: latent TB infection (LTBI) and active TB disease.

    Persons with latent TB infection do not have symptoms and their chest X-rays are normal; since they do not have the disease, they cannot transmit the infection and do not pose a risk to others.

    Active TB disease means that the person infected maybe be showing symptoms and can spread the illness to others. If not treated properly, active TB disease can be fatal, and in fact, TB continues to kill more people in the world than any other infectious disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, 10.4 million people around the world became sick with TB disease and 1.7 million worldwide died because of their infection. Symptoms of active TB infection include:
    • Persistent coughing with phlegm
    • Night sweats
    • Low-grade fever
    • Weight loss
    • Tiredness
    “In Pima County active TB disease is not rare,” said TB Control and Prevention Program Epidemiologist, Anissa Taylor. “There are approximately forty cases detected per year.” Although very serious, TB can be effectively treated and prevented when diagnosed and treated in a timely manner. If someone is exposed to a patient with active TB disease of the lungs, they should contact their healthcare provider or local health department for guidance.

    Persons found to have latent TB infection are generally recommended to take a preventative treatment consisting of one or two antibiotics. Those diagnosed with active TB disease require four antibiotics. “Treatment for latent TB infection is free and well-tolerated by the vast majority of patients, and effectively cures the infection before it can ever develop into disease,” explained Belinda Davis, a TB Control & Prevention Program Nurse Case Manager.

    “Effective public health partnerships ensure that cases of active TB disease are identified early, and necessary actions are taken,” said Fernando Silvas, the lead TB Control & Prevention Program Disease Investigator. “Teamwork between Health Department and school staff was the key to taking effective actions that prevented the spread of disease.”

    For more information about TB disease or the TB Control and Prevention Program, visit www.pima.gov/health and click on “Tuberculosis.” Additional information can also be found at https://www.cdc.gov/tb/