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FOR RELEASE: March 20, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Tuberculosis Diagnosed in Southwest Oklahoma
Public Health Officials Act to Identify People Potentially Exposed

As a result of their exposure to one undiagnosed active case of tuberculosis (TB), more than 600 persons in a three-county area in southwest Oklahoma have been tested for TB, and of those, 100 persons have been identified as infected with TB, the Oklahoma State Department of Health confirmed today.

The state health department and the Jackson, Tillman and Comanche county health departments have initiated a comprehensive effort to identify people who may have been exposed to TB after cases of the disease were diagnosed. Health officials stressed that the initiative is a standard procedure undertaken when even a single case of infectious active TB disease is diagnosed or strongly suspected.

Health officials confirm that this is an unusually large outbreak of TB for Oklahoma. In the year 2000, a total of three cases of TB were reported in Jackson, Comanche and Tillman counties. In 2001, 20 cases were reported in these counties. For the state of Oklahoma, 154 cases were reported in 2000; 194 cases were reported in 2001.

Of the 100 persons found to be infected (have a positive skin test), 17 persons were identified with active TB disease and about 10 others have symptoms or x-ray changes suggestive of active disease. All of the persons with confirmed or suspected active TB are being treated aggressively with highly effective medicines. Most of the persons with positive skin tests are being treated with medication that will keep them from ever getting sick.

The scenario began in late July 2001, when an individual was seen in the Jackson County Memorial Hospital Emergency Room and was diagnosed with active pulmonary TB. Although now cured, he had been sick for more than eight months prior to his diagnosis and had contact to numerous persons within a widespread family and social network. Once he was confirmed with active TB, a contact investigation was initiated immediately to locate, test, and treat if necessary, all those who had come into contact with him.

Health officials said the majority of persons exposed to TB in the outbreak have already been evaluated and the outbreak has been confined to the family and the social network of persons in which it started. It has not spread to the general public.

State and local health officials are now working to make certain that persons who were infected take their preventive medicine. Some persons who have not taken their medicines have gone on to develop active contagious tuberculosis disease. As a result, health officials are supervising daily therapy of persons with TB disease as well as infected individuals.

TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The bacteria are propelled into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs or sneezes. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected. Persons diagnosed with active TB must comply with an intensive course of treatment for at least six months. If not properly treated, TB can be deadly.

An estimated 10 to 15 million people in the United States are infected with TB, but the vast majority of them have latent TB infections. Only 5 to10 percent of people with latent TB will progress to the active, infectious stage of the disease.

For more information about TB and testing, contact the county health department in your area.

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