New Case - Tuberculosis Continues to Be a Problem

New Tuberculosis Case
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Tuberculosis (TB) is an old disease, yet it continues to be a current day problem. Massachusetts health officials plan to screen approximately 75 students at Salem State College after a student had a positive skin test.

The student is reported to be male and tested positive during this past academic year. Letters were sent out at the end of February telling the student who had classes with him of their need to be screened. Health officials will give free screenings to the specified individuals.

The screening is a precautionary measure, as it can be spread from person to person. The TB bacteria germs are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. These germs can stay in the air for several hours, depending on the environment. Persons who breathe in the air containing these Tuberculosis germs can become infected.

Tuberculosis usually affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, the kidneys, or the spine.

Symptoms of tuberculosis include feelings of sickness or weakness, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. When the disease is in the lungs, the symptoms may also include coughing, chest pain, and the coughing up of blood. What Should I Do if I Have Been Exposed to Someone with TB Disease?

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People with TB disease are most likely to spread the germs to people they spend time with every day, such as family members or coworkers. This is why the health department is asking the potentially exposed students to be screened.

Screening for TB is most commonly done using a skin test. This involves the injection of a small amount of fluid (called tuberculin) into the skin in the lower part of the arm. A person given the tuberculin skin test must return within 48 to 72 hours to have a trained health care worker look for a reaction on the arm.

When the skin test is “positive” it only tells physicians and medical personnel that the person has been infected with TB germs. It does not tell whether or not the person has progressed to TB disease. Other tests, such as a chest x-ray and a sample of sputum, are needed to see whether the person actually has Tuberculosis disease.

TB disease can be treated by taking several drugs for 6 to 12 months. It is very important that people who have TB disease finish the medicine, and take the drugs exactly as prescribed.

Tuberculosis that is resistant to drugs is harder and more expensive to treat. In some situations, staff of the local health department meet regularly with patients who have Tuberculosis to watch them take their medications. This is called directly observed therapy (DOT). DOT helps the patient complete treatment in the least amount of time.

Sources

Boston Globe
Boston Herald
Center for Disease Control and Prevention

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