Two TB cases in Garco
October 23, 2007
GARFIELD COUNTY ” Two people in Garfield County are undergoing treatment for tuberculosis.
That number isn’t unusual for the county, which also had two cases last year, said Laurel Little, nurse manager of the Glenwood Springs office of Garfield County Public Health.
She said the two cases are not related. One was diagnosed several months ago, and the second one recently. Health officials aren’t releasing names or demographic information on the patients.
The patients are being isolated during treatment to prevent the spread of the disease to others, and people who have been in close contact with them are undergoing skin tests to make sure they’re not infected, Little said.
Tuberculosis is a contagious respiratory disease that can be fatal without treatment, which consists of several antibiotics delivered over several months, Little said. Some of the symptoms are coughing, fever, weight loss and night sweats.
Respiratory droplets transmit the disease during coughing, Little said.
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Besides the 2006 and 2007 cases, over the last 10 years Garfield County has recorded a total of three other TB cases, occurring in 1997, 1998 and 2002, state health records show.
Little said health officials try to determine how the patients contracted the disease.
“Since our county has such a low rate of active cases, which is wonderful, most of the time we can’t pin it down,” she said.
She said some of the highest-risk settings are institutions such as long-term care facilities and prisons where ventilation might not be up to standards. Such institutions have infection control programs targeting diseases such as TB.
TB drew attention this year when an Atlanta lawyer, Andrew Speaker, flew to Europe and back on a commercial airline despite having the disease. Little said that while planes might not have the best ventilation, the short length of exposure reduces the risk.
She said health officials can pursue enforcement in situations where TB patients don’t agree to remain isolated during their recovery, but most want to cooperate to keep the disease from spreading. Recovery times can vary from person to person, lasting from weeks to months, she said.
TB rates are higher in Latin America and Asia. A few years ago, Garfield County Public Health carried out TB education and screening for clients in the Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food and other aid to low-income families. About three-quarters of those in WIC are Latino, but Little said non-immigrant WIC clients also participated in the TB program.
The program sought in part to counter the notion that a vaccine used for TB in some countries is effective for life. Little said the vaccine isn’t used in the United States because it’s not that reliable to begin with, “and it also loses its effectiveness over time.”
Some other risk factors for TB include working in a health-care setting or having immune-compromising diseases. Little said TB screening tests aren’t recommended for people who don’t fit into a high-risk category.
People can carry TB in a latent form, but Little said it’s hard to know how common that is because the disease doesn’t manifest itself.