Auburn Community College Urges Testing for Hundreds after Student's Tuberculosis Diagnosis
Farwell, Jackie, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)
AUBURN, Maine -- Central Maine Community College will kick off the spring semester with information sessions about tuberculosis after roughly 300 people affiliated with the school were warned last week of possible exposure to the bacterial disease.
State health officials informed the college on Jan. 10 that an individual associated with CMCC recently was hospitalized for tuberculosis, according to CMCC President Scott Knapp.
The individual is a student, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last week, CMCC emailed about 300 students, faculty and staff who had close contact with the infected person, urging them to get tested for the disease, Knapp said. The emails were followed by mailed letters on Jan. 17, he said.
CMCC will host a free TB testing clinic administered by the Maine CDC on campus on Monday, Jan. 27. Maine CDC staff also will be available at three TB informational sessions scheduled for Thursday, according to school officials.
"There are a lot of questions" on the 3,000-student campus, Knapp said Tuesday.
TB can spread through the air when someone carrying the disease in their lungs coughs, sneezes or talks, potentially infecting others who breathe in the bacteria. But only those who are coughing and sick, with an "active" case of TB, are contagious, said Dr. Stephen Sears, state epidemiologist. Even then, only people regularly exposed to the infected person are at risk, he said.
"This is not a contagious disease like the flu," he said. "It isn't like you get exposed once and you get it. It's usually from multiple exposures over longer periods of time."
Maine typically records 10 to 20 cases of active tuberculosis a year, Sears said. Last year, Maine confirmed 17 cases, including an outbreak in Aroostook County, he said.
TB typically hits populated areas, where the disease spreads more easily, Sears said.
While tuberculosis was rampant and feared as a major killer in the U.S. a century ago -- often called "consumption" or the "white plague" -- today's medications are very effective against the disease, he said.
"It is a highly treatable and, most of the time, curable disease," Sears said. "The most important thing is identifying it and treating somebody as soon as you can so you have the best shot of getting rid of the disease. …