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Published May 20, 2008, 12:00 AM

Active TB case reported in Nobles County

Health official says public not at risk

By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — A Nobles County resident who works in Pipestone County is being treated for an active case of tuberculosis, but area residents shouldn’t be too worried about contracting the disease.

In 2007, Minnesota reported 238 cases of active TB, with 85 percent of those cases in people who were born outside the U.S. The bacterial infection usually attacks the lungs and is spread through the air when an infected individual coughs or sneezes.

“You cannot go to the grocery store or Wal-Mart and get TB,” said Nobles-Rock Community Health Services Public Nurse Barb Navara, who attended a three-day workshop on TB last week. “You almost have to sit in an airplane for more than eight hours with the person sitting right beside you or in your row.”

Proper hygiene, such as coughing or sneezing into one’s sleeve, can go a long way toward preventing the spread of the disease, she added.

Nobles County averages more than one active TB case each year, based on statistics collected from 1993 to 2007. In that 15-year span, Nobles County had 21 reported cases, compared to five in Cottonwood County, two in Pipestone County, one in Murray County and none in Jackson or Rock counties.

Diagnosis and treatment

There are two different types of tuberculosis — the infection, or latent variety, and the disease, or active version.

“The TB infection means exposure with germs on the lungs that are inactive,” Navara said. “You don’t make anyone else sick.”

Among the signs of an active TB are weight loss, night sweats, extreme fatigue, coughing and/or coughing up bloody sputum. Those experiencing symptoms, especially those coughing up blood, should seek medical attention immediately.

Persons with a TB infection are treated with medication, with treatment including one pill a day for a period of nine months, along with a monthly visit to public health. Unless treated, those infected are more at risk for the full-blown disease if they are exposed to someone with the active form of TB.

“The medication (creates) a hardened shell around the germs. It’s a protection, a preventative,” Navara said.

In addition to treatment with medication, Navara said education is also provided to individuals who contract the infection or disease.

As for individuals with the TB disease, Navara said they are prescribed a four-drug cocktail and may be monitored for up to 12 months, depending on the severity of the disease.

Each confirmed case of TB, whether active or latent, must be reported to the Minnesota Department of Health. The state covers the cost of treating the disease, and local public health agencies are tasked with following up with infected individuals to ensure they continue their treatment.

Case is monitored

As for the Nobles County resident with active TB, Navara said 20 people who work in close contact with the individual have been tested for TB, and all of those tests have come back negative.

In addition to testing co-workers, Navara said other family members living in close proximity to the victim are tested as well.

“We look at the work (place), home, family, the air circulation in their household, social and workplace settings,” she said.

Of special concern is exposure to children, who are more susceptible to the disease. In some cases, children have been removed from a home until the person with active TB has achieved three negative sputum tests — a process that can take several weeks.

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