May 24, 2018
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UMaine, CDC officials probe student’s case of tuberculosis

By Meg Haskell, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — University of Maine and state public health officials are investigating a case of tuberculosis in a student at the Orono campus.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday there is no need for the university community to be overly concerned about the situation.

“This is a routine investigation,” she said. The infected student has been started on antibiotics and the risk of transmission is small, Mills said.

Identifying information about the student has not been released, other than the fact that the individual does not live on campus.

The Maine CDC and university health officials are working together to identify “close contacts” of the infected student. In this situation, that would include close friends, household members and possibly sports teammates, Mills said, but not casual acquaintances or classmates. Close contacts will be notified by e-mail and then by a written letter and asked to be tested for exposure to the tuberculosis bacterium. They first will be screened using a common skin test; those who test positive will undergo follow-up testing and be started on medication if appropriate.

The case was brought to the attention of the university on Thursday, according to spokesman Joe Carr, after the affected student contacted a professor to explain missing a class. The professor immediately notified university officials, according to Carr. At about the same time, he said Friday, the Maine CDC made contact with the university, having received notification of the reportable diagnosis from the student’s physician.

A notice about the investigation was posted on the UMaine Web site Friday morning.

Carr said there are “certain advantages” to conducting the investigation in a community that is closely linked by shared daily activities and electronic communication. So far, he said, students and others on campus have responded appropriately to the news of the investigation.

A fact sheet on the UM Web site says that “tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium, which usually affects the lungs. However, other parts of the body can also be affected.”

It goes on to say that “when someone with TB disease of the lung coughs, sneezes, laughs, or sings, TB germs get into the air. People who share the same air space with this person may breathe in these germs.”

The Web site says that symptoms “may include feeling weak or sick, weight loss, fever, night sweats, and a cough lasting three or more weeks. Persons with TB of the lung may have complaints of cough, chest pain, and/or coughing up blood.”

According to data posted on the Maine CDC Web site, a number of active tuberculosis cases are reported each year in Maine. There were 19 cases in 2007, 16 in 2006 and 17 in 2005. The incidence of the disease is significantly lower in Maine than the national average.

Many more people test positive for exposure to TB without having symptoms or being infectious.

Those at increased risk of illness include people who travel to areas where tuberculosis is more prevalent, those who live in unsanitary conditions, health care workers and individuals whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV-AIDS or other diseases.

University of Maine issues statement in tuberculosis case

Robert Dana, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at the University of Maine, issued a statement Friday concerning the tuberculosis case discovered at UM. He said in part:

– The person who has TB is being treated with antibiotics and has been determined to be noninfectious at this time.

– TB is a disease that can be spread through the air when a person who has TB coughs. Spread of disease requires prolonged close contact.

– A case of TB rarely spreads to others, even those who have had prolonged close contact.

– The university is working with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to identify individuals who may have had prolonged close contact with the individual who has TB. TB testing will be offered to these individuals.

– For anyone designated as a close contact of the individual, a Tuberculin Skin Test will be administered by a state public health nurse who has had special training in administering the test. The test will be interpreted by the public health nurse 48 to 72 hours after it is administered.

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