Tuberculosis case confirmed at WWU

Testing confirms a diagnosis of active tuberculosis for a Western Washington University student seen at the WWU Student Health Center last week. This news was relayed to all faculty, staff, students and parents in e-mail messages sent this morning from Emily Gibson, director of the Student Health Center at WWU, and Greg Stern, a health officer with the Whatcom County Health Department.

The student – who lives in campus housing – is receiving treatment and will remain in isolation until determined to be no longer contagious by the Whatcom County Health Department. For privacy reasons, the student’s name and other personal information is not being released.

Western officials are working with the Health Department to identify and evaluate individuals who may have had significant close contact with the student. Those individuals are being individually notified and asked to be tested for possible tuberculosis exposure with a simple skin test. Because TB is uncommon in the general U.S. population, and because the TB test is not 100-percent accurate, the risk of false positives is much higher in people who are not close contacts; therefore, those who did not have significant contact with the student should not be tested. The Health Department will determine who should be tested for TB infection.

The health and safety of WWU students, faculty and staff is a top concern at Western. The University is working closely with the Whatcom County Health Department and will send updates to the campus community as additional information becomes available.

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection, usually of the lungs, spread when an individual who has active pulmonary TB coughs or sneezes. Most infections occur when people directly inhale TB germs over an extended length of time. Brief or casual contact with an infected person does not spread the disease. Most people who become infected with tuberculosis are able to contain it and never develop the disease. TB infection without disease is not contagious and can be treated to prevent progression to active disease.

For more information about tuberculosis, visit the Centers for Disease Control Web site at

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010 - 9:25am