Residents being tested after TB exposure

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Around 80 people in Clovis are being screened to rule out the spread of tuberculosis after a health care worker was diagnosed with TB, a state Department of Health official said Thursday.

Those exposed have been clearly identified and the community at large should not be concerned, said Dr. Steve Jenison, who is with the department’s infectious disease bureau.

“We know who was potentially exposed to TB in this case, and we will be in touch with you if we think you need to be tested,” said Dr. Marcos Burgos, medical director of the tuberculosis program for the Health Department. “We are contacting individuals who may have been exposed so we can treat them if they are infected.”

Approximately 250 people in Clovis and Albuquerque were identified after a health care worker was diagnosed with the infectious disease.
The state Department of Health and other agencies already have tested 73 people who came in close contact with the worker, and found no evidence the disease has spread.

Jenison said screening will take place over the next couple of weeks. He said the strain of tuberculosis in this case has shown to be sensitive to drugs and is easily treatable.

“We have enough information about the case of tuberculosis in the person we’re looking at to know that it is almost certainly not drug resistant,” he said.

Privacy laws forbid the department from identifying the health care worker or their employer.

Health officials said they may screen other people as the investigation progresses.

Jenison said the majority of people who are exposed will not become infected. A small percentage may develop latent tuberculosis, which typically lies dormant and is benign but can become active even years after it is contracted.

And an even smaller percentage could develop active tuberculosis, he said.

Tuberculosis can be spread from person to person through the air. The disease can be treated by taking medication for six to 12 months.
New Mexico reported 51 cases of tuberculosis last year and 48 in 2006. Fifteen cases have been diagnosed so far this year.

Jenison said New Mexico has a low incident of tuberculosis.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

How it’s spread
—Tuberculosis can be spread from person to person through the air when someone with TB coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings. Tuberculosis is most likely to be spread from a diseased person to others when they frequently spend time together.

Symptoms — Include a strong cough that lasts several weeks, coughing up bloody sputum, chest pain, weakness or fatigue, weight loss, appetite loss, chills, fever and night sweats.

Of note: There is no connection to a case of bovine tuberculosis in Curry County last year that led to 12,000 dairy cattle being slaughtered, Jenison said.

Jenison said bovine tuberculosis can be transmitted to humans, usually through drinking unpasturized milk.

— N.M. Department of Health