Health Dept.: Tuberculosis case ‘not cause for alarm’

Jessie Markovetz

A tuberculosis infection in a member of the University is not a serious problem, reported state Department of Health officials Tuesday.

A case of pulmonary tuberculosis was detected in a female whose name and age were not released. Currently, the health department has scheduled eight people with whom she had sustained prolonged contact with for testing.

“Tuberculosis is not as extinct as people think it is,” Patricia Burns, a registered nurse with the health department said. “People hear the word and it kind of feeds into panic.”

But the disease is hardly a rarity. According to Burns, there were 350 cases of tuberculosis infection reported last year in Pennsylvania, and 16 of those were in Delaware County. Additionally, some 16 million Americans have the latent form of the infection.

“It’s generally not cause for alarm,” Burns said.

Rebecca Bramen, director of the health center, said the center was maintaining a low profile about the incident because, “We feel the risk is very low. We don’t want to scare people without good reason.”

Though only eight people have been scheduled for testing, if they return positive, further testing will be done. Detection is done by the Mantoux test, which involves injecting tuberculin, a harmless testing material, underneath the skin and observing the size of the resulting bump on the arm days later.

Neither the University nor the Department of Health feel there is danger as a result of the infection. However, “We’ll guarantee the campus that anyone who needs to be tested will be,” Burns said.

There is a pronounced difference between contracting tuberculosis and actually getting sick, officials insisted.

According to Burns, someone can become infected with tuberculosis and never fall ill. The disease does not present itself until the body experiences a rapid change in health, such as prolonged exposure from home-lessness or developing AIDS.

Active tuberculosis can be spread through the air if germs are inhaled, but this is only a danger if someone with a weakened immune system is affected.

Symptoms of active tuberculosis include pronounced weight loss and fatigue, constant fever or cough and night sweats. “And when we say tired, we don’t mean sleepy, we mean too tired to get up and take a walk to the spigot,” Burns said.

Latent tuberculosis is spread through close contact, such as living together in areas of poor ventilation, Burns explained. Residence halls can be ripe for transmission “depending on ventilation, how much time is spent in the room, and so on,” she said.

Burns ranks tuberculosis at the top of her list of good diseases to get.

“It’s easy to treat,” said Glenn Duley, a spokesman for the Department of Health.

“Treatment is about 95 percent effective if it’s identified before it becomes active.”