January 17

Hundreds at Maine college urged to get TB test after possible exposure

A student at Central Maine Community College was hospitalized with an active case of TB, and free tests will be made available to those who may have been exposed.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

As many as 300 people affiliated with Central Maine Community College in Auburn are being strongly urged to get a tuberculosis test after being exposed to a student with an active case of TB who was eventually hospitalized, state and campus officials said Friday.

Dr. Stephen Sears, the state epidemiologist, said Maine sees about 16 cases of active tuberculosis a year, and this is not the first case of 2014. He emphasized that only people with active tuberculosis – those who are coughing and ill – can spread the disease. Others might contract latent tuberculosis from someone with an active case, but can spread the disease to others only if it develops into active tuberculosis.

“Most people who get infected with TB never get sick ... (and) are not going to transmit the disease,” Sears said, noting that there are about 400 cases of latent tuberculosis in the state every year. Tuberculosis is treatable and curable today, a far cry from the early 20th century, when it was known as consumption and was the leading cause of death.

CMCC President Scott Knapp said emails and letters have been sent to all those people who may have been exposed over a 12-week period. The case was reported to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention by a hospital, he said.

The school reopens Tuesday after winter break, and free on-campus TB tests administered by the state CDC will be provided Monday, Jan. 27, and Wednesday, Jan. 29. Because it takes about 10 weeks between infection and testing positive for tuberculosis, state officials will return to campus in late February to offer another round of free tests.

There are about 3,000 students and 300 employees on the campus, Knapp said. In his 17 years as president, this is the first time the school has had a case of active tuberculosis.

Knapp said he was notified by state officials about the case on Jan. 10, and campus faculty and employees were briefed by state CDC health workers this week.

“It is reassuring. This is an eminently curable disease,” he said. The patient, he heard, is recovering after treatment.

Sears said cases in Maine are not clustered and have occurred in every county and in various populations. Brief exposure is unlikely to lead to infection, and statistically only about 10 percent of people with latent tuberculosis ever develop an active case, he said.

Nationwide, there were about 10,000 active tuberculosis cases last year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com

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