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Jun 11: Tuberculosis Update from Memorial Health System

Tuberculosis Update from Memorial Health System

On Monday afternoon, the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment held a joint news conference along with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Colorado State University - Pueblo and Memorial Health System. It was announced that test results confirmed a patient presenting to Memorial Hospital Central's Emergency Department in the early morning hours Friday, June 8 that died later that day, did indeed test positive for tuberculosis.

Below are some frequently asked questions about tuberculosis. Anyone who may be concerned can contact their physician or they can speak with a registered nurse about tuberculosis by calling HealthLink at (719) 444-CARE. Questions can also be directed to the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment by calling (719) 578-3199.

Tuberculosis Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is tuberculosis?
A: Tuberculosis (commonly referred to as ‘TB’) is a disease caused by a bacterial germ called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The most common form of TB is lung infection, but TB can affect other parts of the body such as the kidneys, spine and brain.

Q: How is TB spread?
A: TB is spread by people who have active TB disease of the lungs or throat. The bacteria are spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Persons most likely to be infected are those in close contact with someone who is contagious over a prolonged period of time. TB germs can remain airborne for several hours, depending on the environment (such as air circulation, confinement, air temperature). TB infection is typically detectable 8-10 weeks after being exposed to the bacteria. Note: Most people exposed to TB bacteria do not become infected.

Q: What happens after you get exposed to TB?
A: Not everyone exposed to TB develops an infection, and not all infected people become sick—a condition known as latent TB infection. People who have latent TB infection carry the TB bacteria in their bodies but show no symptoms of disease due to the bacteria’s inactivity. Rarely, persons exposed to TB who are infected will get active TB disease, whereby the infection causes you to become ill with symptoms.

Q: What is active TB disease?
A: Persons with active TB disease have the more severe form of TB infection and are ill with symptoms. Active TB can affect many parts of the body, but particularly the lungs, kidneys, spine and brain. General symptoms can include nausea, muscle weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats. The symptoms of TB in the lungs are coughing, chest pain and blood in the sputum.

Some people develop active TB disease soon after becoming infected, before their immune system can fight the TB bacteria. Others develop the disease long after becoming infected when their immune system is otherwise vulnerable—such as in people infected with HIV, diabetes, cancer treatment or other medical conditions.

Q: Is active TB disease treatable?
A: Yes, active TB disease is highly treatable if prescribed medication regimens are followed. The El Paso County Department of Health and Environment works in close coordination with infected individuals and their medical providers to ensure that medication schedules and follow-up care are strictly followed.

Q: What is latent TB infection?
A: People who have latent TB infection carry the TB bacteria in their bodies but show no symptoms of the disease due to the bacteria’s inactivity. These people cannot spread TB to others. Latent TB infection is diagnosed by a TB skin test (more information below).

Many people who have latent TB infection never develop the active TB disease that makes them sick. For some people, particularly those who have weak immune systems, active TB disease may develop later on.

Q: If someone has latent TB do they need to be treated?
A: Medication is available to treat latent TB infection. The decision to begin treatment for latent TB is based largely on the patient’s risk of developing TB disease. Those at increased risk for developing TB disease include patients with HIV infection, people recently exposed to someone with TB disease, infants and children younger than 4 years of age, and people with certain medical conditions that weaken their immune system.

Medical providers and TB prevention programs at your health department can provide recommendations whether a person with latent TB infection should be treated.

Q: What should people do if they have been in contact with someone with a latent TB infection?
A: Persons with latent TB infections cannot spread the bacteria to others. Those exposed to someone with latent TB infection do not need to be tested. However, anyone who has been exposed to an individual with active TB disease or someone showing symptoms of TB should contact their physician or EPCDHE to schedule testing.

Q: How common is TB?
A: TB, though once a major health concern in the United States, is readily curable with treatment. Nationally, the number of new active TB cases has been decreasing since 1992. During 2005, a preliminary total of 14,093 TB cases (4.8 cases per 100,000 population) were reported in the United States.

Q: How can people learn more about TB?
A: There are available educational resources regarding TB on the Internet—including: