WWU community updated on tuberculosis testing via Western Alert

Matthew Anderson
University Communications

Emily Gibson, director of the Student Health Center at Western Washington University, sent an e-mail message Tuesday morning to all WWU faculty, staff and students, in addition to family and friends who had signed up for emergency notification online.

In her e-mail, Gibson apprised the community of recent testing regarding the active case of tuberculosis that was reported a few months ago.

The full text of Gibson's e-mail follows:

Western Alert: Health Update
Testing continues for possible TB exposure

Over two months ago, a Western Alert was issued informing the campus community of an active case of tuberculosis (TB). Since that time, the Whatcom County Health Department has continued to treat and monitor the individual and test the student’s closest contacts.

The Health Department recently found that two of those contacts developed positive skin tests on follow-up testing, indicating TB infection, without any signs of TB disease. TB infection without disease is referred to as latent TB infection. It is not contagious, therefore exposure to people with latent TB infection poses no risk to others of acquiring TB. People with latent TB infection can be treated with medications to significantly reduce the risk of the asymptomatic infection developing into active and contagious TB disease in the future.

The Whatcom County Health Department has determined that it would be prudent to broaden the testing to include individuals who could have been exposed through classroom or other prolonged contact prior to the original diagnosis in early February. The Student Health Center will notify approximately 75 individuals this week to schedule skin testing. Test results are read by examining the skin test site 48-72 hours later. Those with positive TB skin tests will be further evaluated and offered medication to reduce the risk of developing active disease.

Laboratory testing has revealed that the student with TB disease has multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). MDR-TB is TB that is resistant to the two most common first-line anti-TB drugs. Effective treatment exists for MDR-TB, and the student is responding to treatment with a good prognosis for full recovery.

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 have not been identified as having close contact with the student should not be tested. If this new round of testing of contacts with less exposure shows significant transmission, then testing will be expanded to a larger group with less than close contact.

Federal health privacy law precludes any disclosure of the identities of the individuals who are being tested or undergoing treatment.

For more information about tuberculosis, please see the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website at http://www.cdc.gov/tb/. Additional questions should be directed to Dr. Emily Gibson, director of the Western Washington University Student Health Center.


Emily Gibson, M.D.


(360) 650-7328

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - 10:06am