State at River Region to test for tuberculosis|[02/22/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 22, 2007

State Health Department officials were in Vicksburg Wednesday testing patients at River Region Medical Center for tuberculosis after a case had been reported here.

The exposure of others was limited and the risk for spread is considered to be extremely low, said Dr. Mary Gayle Armstrong, health officer for District Five, which encompasses Claiborne, Copiah, Hinds, Madison, Rankin, Simpson, Sharkey-Issaquena, Warren and Yazoo counties.

&#8220We have become aware that there was a person with TB who was at the hospital,” she said. &#8220The Mississippi Department of Health responds to all possible exposures, and this response by MDH includes learning more about the person who is ill so that any and all possible contacts, even low-risk contacts are provided an opportunity for testing.”

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Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection found most often in the lungs, but can spread to other parts of the body. Exposure to TB doesn’t always result in illness. Often the disease remains latent, causing no symptoms. Latent TB can develop into active TB if the immune system weakens, either through illness, age or other causes.

Although a major cause of chronic illness and death in the first part of the last century, TB is now rare. Screening tests are common for teachers, restaurants and health-care personnel who may be latent carriers.

Only one person who had been at River Region is affected with TB, Armstrong said. The number of those tested for possible exposure was not disclosed.

Additionally, about 60 students and two employees of Hinds Community College in Vicksburg will be tested Monday or Tuesday for the disease after exposure to a student with it.

It was not clear if the person confirmed at River Region was the same as the one at Hinds.

&#8220The Warren County Department of Health has notified the college that an individual at the Vicksburg Campus has tested positive for tuberculosis,” said Colleen Hartfield, vice president for community relations at Hinds. &#8220The Health Department has assured college officials that there is minimal risk and that direct, extended contact was limited to a small number of individuals.

The Vicksburg-Warren campus enrolls about 1,000 students.

&#8220We take any health concern about students or employees very seriously,” Hartfield said.

Hartfield said the results of the tests will be available a week from today.

Investigation has identified those people who may have been exposed even briefly, and all were notified by MDH that they needed to be tested.

&#8220People who may have been in contact with this person, even briefly, have been sent a letter asking them to come for a skin test,” Armstrong said. &#8220If you have received a letter, remember there is no need to panic. The risk is low, but it is best to receive testing.”

The River Region case marks the second TB case reported in the state this year. The first was several weeks ago at Blackburn Middle School in Jackson. The entire student population was tested, but there were no signs the disease had spread.