Ex-TCC student taking TB treatments may have exposed up to 200 students

FORT WORTH -- A former Tarrant County College student's ongoing treatment for active tuberculosis has triggered a public health effort to identify students and faculty who could have been exposed to the disease, according to TCC.

"On Monday (March 19th) Tarrant County Public Health (TCPH) notified the Southeast Campus that a former student had tested postive for active tuberculosis (TB) and is presently being treated," stated Southeast Campus President William Coppola in a letter to faculty, staff and students. "Working with our Health Services personnel, we immediately began a process designed to handle the situation."

Coppola also states that Tarrant County public health officials contacted students who may have been in contact with the "diagnosed student." Faculty, who were also in contact with the student, were also notified.

Rita Parson, a spokeswoman for TCC, said the college district is working with Tarrant County Public Health to reach out to anyone who may have been exposed -- including as many as 200 students who may have been in the same classes with the affected student.

"This is all cautionary," Parson said.

The former student, whose name and age weren't released, attended classes on the southeast campus in Arlington last fall. He apparently withdrew from classes earlier this spring semester, Parson said.

The former student at the center of this case apparently lives on the border of Dallas and Tarrant Counties. His suspected TB case was initially referred to the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services, said Zachary Thompson, the agency's director.

"The student was referred to us by a hospital," Thompson said, explaining that hospitals and doctors' offices typically refer suspected and confirmed cases to them so they can conduct a "contact investigation" that involves checking and testing family and other close ones who may have been exposed.

Tuberculosis is an airborne disease that affects a person's lungs and other parts of the body. People with the latent TB infection have been exposed but don't get sick or show symptoms, and they are not contagious.

Parson said Dallas County public health officials alerted Tarrant County public health officials, who in turn alerted the college.

"Our role is to follow their protocol," Parson said. "The people who we are reaching out to are the people who were in his classes."

Because many students take about 15 hours, that could mean alerting some 200 or more students. For example, each class has about 30 students and if a student took five that would mean 150 students would need to be contacted.

People who were classmates with the former student, who is being treated for TB, will be alerted in letters. All TCC students will receive an email about the issue, Parson said.

"The precaution is to check and see what is happening to them as individuals," Parson said.

TCC students will have the opportunity to ask questions on March 27 during a question and answer session with Tarrant County Public Health. Free TB testing will be available on April 3 for students who could have been directly exposed. Those students have the option to get a TB test from a private physician if they want.

Dr. Sandra Parker, medical director of Tarrant County Public Health, said the agency will return to the campus on April 5 to determine from the skin tests if there is a postive or negative result.

"All that demonstrates is whether or not they have been exposed," Parker said, adding a positive result would likely result in further testing to pinpoint whether it is latent TB or active.

State and local public health officials investigated suspected TB cases and exposure last October at the University of North Texas and Denton High School. Typically in TB cases the state doesn't release demographic information, citing privacy. Texas has about 1,500 cases per year.

Health officials try to move swiftly to determine who has been infected so they can treat the person and prevent more people from getting the disease. The first step involves a skin test. Reaction to the skin test is evaluated. If a test is positive, it doesn't mean the person is sick just that he or she was exposed.

About 10 percent of people exposed to TB develop the disease in their lifetime, the state reported to the Star-Telegram last fall.