State department of health to test Auburn University staff, students for tuberculosis: What you need to know

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AUBURN, Ala. - Alabama Department of Public Health officials said they are investigating a case of pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) in a student enrolled at Auburn University. They notified Auburn of their plans to investigate on May 9.

Monday, public health officials said 220 people (students and faculty) received emails from the university asking them to complete a screening. This came after ADPH and the university, working together, identified students enrolled in classes and faculty/staff who may have had contact with the student in question.

"If the individuals who were named as contacts, were emailed," Pam Barrett, Director for ADPH Division of TB Control said, "they should be checked." The emails would have gone to the Auburn email accounts for the students, faculty and staff who may be affected, she explained.

“We are working very closely with the university to develop and implement a screening plan. As with any identified case of TB in Alabama, ADPH will implement precautionary testing, investigation and control measures," said Dr. Burnestine Taylor, Medical Officer, Disease Control and Prevention through a press release.

Testing will begin on Thursday, Barrett said. It is a simple blood test that comes back in three days, officials explained.

Barrett said you can go to your own doctor, as long as you inform ADPH of the results, or you can go to a ADPH local health department in your county.  Auburn will do 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. testing and the student health center on campus for free.

According to ADPH, TB is a treatable and preventable disease. The Health Department recommends that only those who were in close contact with the student need to be tested. Barrett said this case of reported TB is not a cause for concern for everyone. Someone needs to be in direct contact with the student in question for a period of time in order to contract the TB germ themselves.

"This is not something that is easily caught," she said. "You have to be in the room with somebody for an extended period of time for you to pick up that germ. It's not like the flu or chicken pox that is easily transmitted."

It is important to be tested because you may not even know you picked up the TB germ, she stated. You could have it, but in its latent form.

"If you take the test and know you have the TB germ, but it hasn't developed into the disease, that's called having a latent TB infection. We can treat that preventively before anyone gets sick. But if you don't take that test, you wouldn't know you had the TB germ. You would have no symptoms. It's important, even if you think you're feeling well," Barrett said of the screening.

Click here for a list of counties where TB cases were reported last year.

Barrett's main message: "If you did get the email [from Auburn], that means you need to be tested."

The American Lung Association shares these takeaways on its website:

  • It is not easy to become infected with tuberculosis.
  • Most infected people have latent TB, meaning they have the tuberculosis germs in their bodies, but their immune system protects them from becoming sick and they are not contagious.
  • TB can almost always be treated and cured if you take medicine as directed.
  • There are forms of TB that are drug resistant.

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