State's TB Scare

A San Diego State University student who attended classes during the spring 2009 semester has been diagnosed with active, infectious tuberculosis. The student is considered to have been contagious between March 1 and May 21.

According to Dr. Gregg Lichtenstein, Medical Director of SDSU Student Health Services, due to confidentiality reasons, the student's gender or other potential identifying information cannot be divulged. University officials have been working to notify approximately 1000 individuals who were in contact with the student. In email and letter notifications, the university is recommending prompt tuberculosis skin testing to determine whether or not infection has occurred.

"Students who attended the same classes were deemed at higher risk of infection," says Lichtenstein, noting that County tuberculosis case investigators have guidelines that were used to determine those at greatest risk. "While a student may have been other places on campus such as the library or a dining facility, it is unlikely that someone may have had a close exposure for a long enough time for them to become infected," he adds.

Lichtenstein says that the infected student was not diagnosed with active tuberculosis at the university's clinic.

"It is extremely rare for Student Health Services to see a student with active tuberculosis," says Lichtenstein. He does note, however, that latent tuberculosis is regularly seen at the clinic. Students with latent tuberculosis are not considered infectious, as they do not have the active disease in their lungs. They do, however, receive treatment with an anti-tuberculosis medication for nine months to lower the chance of developing the illness at a later time.

The bacteria that cause tuberculosis can be transmitted by fairly short contact in close quarters, or longer exposures in larger spaces. According to Lichtenstein, college students are no more likely than others to contract tuberculosis.

"On the whole, college students are a healthy group and are less likely to develop tuberculosis. People who are at most risk of developing active, infectious tuberculosis are young children -- 4 and under -- and people who may have problems that affect their immune system," he says.

"However," he notes, "sometimes otherwise healthy individuals may develop active tuberculosis."

The infected student does not live on campus and is not attending summer session.

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