CCC student gets positive result from TB skin test

Classmate quarantined with disease

65 tested

Westminster

March 25, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

One of the 65 students tested for tuberculosis at Carroll Community College in Westminster this week had a positive result yesterday and might be carrying the germ that causes the contagious disease.

A positive skin test does not mean the student has the infectious tuberculosis that has led to the quarantining of a classmate and prompted the testing at the two-year school in Westminster. A chest X-ray of the student will be taken to determine whether the disease is present, and the student might be placed on an antibiotic regimen as a precaution.

"The only thing the positive skin test tells us is that this student has come in contact with the TB bacillus sometime in her lifetime, and not necessarily in this classroom," said Debbie Middleton, program manager for communicable diseases at the Carroll County Health Department.

The Carroll County Health Department informed the college administration last week that a part-time pre-nursing student had received a diagnosis of infectious TB.

Nurses administered the free skin tests Monday and Tuesday to 65 students and two teachers who had shared classroom space with the infected student. The screening of test results yesterday turned up one positive result and will continue on the campus today.

"We read the results privately with each individual and gave them the results," Middleton said. "These kids are all upset that they have been exposed to tuberculosis, but they all have been really cooperative."

Because it can take as long as 12 weeks for an infected person to test positive for TB, everyone involved in the initial "contact investigation" that began with the patient's immediate family will be retested in June, Middleton said. They will receive letters in May telling them to undergo a second test.

"Most everyone at the college lives in Carroll County, and that should make it easier for us to track these people," said Larry L. Leitch, director of the county Health Department. "It is our responsibility to follow up."

Middleton said, "If they don't come in for a retest, we will be calling them."

The TB patient, who was enrolled in two pre-nursing classes, is taking the prescribed antibiotics and will be quarantined at her home until she is no longer contagious. The student whose skin test turned out positive yesterday has no symptoms and is not considered infectious, health workers said.

TB, a communicable disease caused by a bacterial infection, usually attacks the lungs. People contract the illness by inhaling airborne germs released from the lungs or throat of an infected person, according to the American Lung Association. Only those in frequent, prolonged contact in shared air space are at risk of contracting the disease. TB can be treated and cured if the patient follows the prescribed treatment.

"This is a serious disease, but we have tried and true protocols that we have followed for decades," Leitch said.

In another tuberculosis-related incident, all 325 pupils and 48 staff members at Rosemont Elementary School in Baltimore were tested for the disease this week after a Coppin State College education student who had observed classes at the school in the fall was found to have TB.

At CCC, which has an enrollment of nearly 12,000, nurses have limited the testing to classmates of the infected student. But anyone concerned about exposure can request a test, which involves a small needle inserted under the skin of an arm. Results are available in about two days.

Jessie Mayne, 20, said the atmosphere on campus is serious but that "no one is freaking out."

College administrators e-mailed faculty members Monday with news of the diagnosis and details on tuberculosis, and the Health Department conducted two question-and-answer sessions on the campus Tuesday.

The college has published details of the incident, excluding the patient's name, and has made available to students information on the disease's symptoms and how it spreads.

"The Health Department met with all the students in the two classes where the infected student was enrolled," said Craig Claggett, college spokesman. "They explained the situation and the level of risk. This is a communicable disease. We want to make sure every student who needs to be tested is tested and that nothing slips through the cracks."

The explanations provided by health workers and faculty members have helped prevent anxiety, Claggett said. But a few students said the discussion should be campuswide and not relegated to two classes.

"I don't think we need a billboard in the middle of the student center, but I think we need to know more," said Ryan Cheney, 19. "All I know about TB is that Edgar Allan Poe's whole family died of it."

Jennifer Avery, 18, would like teachers to encourage more class discussion of TB.

"There is too much hearsay from students now," she said.

Kevin Korzie, 19, said, "I think the biggest worry was for the students in this person's classes. There is no reason to panic. They are going to take care of this situation and not let this get out of hand."

Chris Hutchison, 22, who attends classes and works in the college tech center, said he would like to keep information flowing.

"I thought TB was rare now," he said. "This is really crazy that it is so close to us."

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