Carroll college reacts to TB case

Infected student quarantined at home

staff, classmates being tested

March 24, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A part-time student at Carroll Community College in Westminster has been diagnosed with infectious tuberculosis, and about 65 of her classmates and teachers are undergoing tests to determine their exposure to the disease.

The female student, who was taking two classes - one that meets Mondays and Wednesdays and the other that meets Tuesdays - is quarantined at home and cannot return to the school until she is no longer infectious. She is undergoing "directly observed therapy" to make sure she is taking the prescribed antibiotic. Health officials declined to give the patient's age, hometown or other personal information.

"The student will remain on home quarantine until she is no longer ill," said Debbie Middleton, program manager for communicable diseases at the county Health Department. "It takes typically about three weeks on therapy to become noninfectious."

It was the second tuberculosis-related incident this week in the metropolitan area. At Rosemont Elementary School in Baltimore, all 325 pupils and 48 staff members were tested for the disease after a Coppin State University education student who had observed classes at the school last fall was found to have tuberculosis, or TB.

TB is a communicable disease caused by a bacterial infection. People contract the illness by inhaling airborne germs released from the lungs or throat of an infected person, typically by a cough or sneeze, according to the American Lung Association. It usually attacks the lungs, but it can affect the bones and almost any part of the body, according to the association.

At CCC, which has an enrollment of nearly 12,000 students, Carroll health workers have limited the testing to classmates of the infected student. But anyone concerned about possible exposure can request a test, which is given at no cost and involves a small needle inserted under the skin of an arm.

"Our main concern is for the students who were in class with the student who has TB," said Craig Claggett, spokesman for the two-year college. "We understand that it can be transmitted through frequent, prolonged contact in shared air space."

Middleton stressed that only "prolonged, enclosed contact" poses a threat. The infected student's pulmonologist had referred her to the county Health Department on March 11. She was undergoing drug therapy for possible tuberculosis for about a week while health officials awaited the results of lab tests, said Middleton. The state lab confirmed the positive diagnosis Friday. County health officials met immediately with college administrators and initiated an education and testing program.

"There is a certain level of anxiety, but everyone understands the situation and is cooperating," said Claggett. "Everyone has taken the test and they all know their risk is low. The Health Department is really on top of this."

Ali Bates, 18, a freshman at the college, said she learned of the situation yesterday.

"I have not noticed any difference in the mood at school," Bates said. "I don't think students are too concerned."

The students and faculty who have been tested are part of what health officials call a contact investigation that began with the patient's immediate family and moved to close contacts. Two Health Department nurses administered free skin tests to students Monday and yesterday, and will be on the campus today to read the first tests. Results take about two days. Middleton handled the educational aspects of the program and answered students' questions.

"The students have been wonderful and very receptive," Middleton said. "No one was panicked. They were calm and they listened and they asked great questions. The college has been phenomenal to work with."

Health officials recommend a chest X-ray, which is free, for anyone with a positive TB test.

All the students and the two faculty members will be retested in three months because it can take up to 12 weeks for an infected person to test positive for the bacteria, Middleton said.

"A positive skin test only means the person has been in contact sometime in their lifetime with the TB bacillus," said Middleton. "Nobody can say if it is this case for sure."

There is a difference between being infected with TB and contracting the disease, health officials said. People infected with TB have the bacteria in their bodies. The body's defenses are protecting them from the germs and they are not sick. Someone with TB disease is sick, can spread the disease to other people and should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Before resuming her routine activities, the CCC student will be retested - through X-rays and a sputum specimen - to determine if her lungs have improved. She will remain on antibiotic therapy for nine months.

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