Health Officials, SU Working Together After 3rd Positive TB Case

SALISBURY – The Wicomico County Health Department and Salisbury University are working together after a third student from the school tested positive for tuberculosis.

The health department and the university are collaborating to offer tuberculosis testing to anyone who may have been in contact with any of the individuals who tested positive for the disease. Officials say all of the students who tested positive are now under medical care.

“All three are under medical treatment,” said Dr. James Cockey, deputy health officer at the Wicomico County Health Department. “Medications are continued beyond the point where infectiousness is gone to ensure full cure.”

The first case of tuberculosis (TB) at Salisbury University was identified in October, according to Cockey. Though officials did their best to test everyone who’d been in contact with that person, a second case was identified in March. The third case was announced April 3. Cockey said officials had hoped to be able to identify everyone affected in October but knew it was possible that cases could continue to pop up.

“If you can identify people early on, you can treat them,” he said. “It isn’t always easy to accomplish.”

Cockey said officials had not yet determined whether the cases were related.

“It is very possible,” he said. “The state lab will do specialized testing that will ascertain whether the three cases have the same strain of TB.”

In an effort to identify anyone else who may have been infected with tuberculosis, health department officials are performing skin tests in which a tiny amount of protein from the TB germ is injected into a person’s outer layer of skin. If that person experiences definitive swelling in the area when they are rechecked between 48 and 72 hours later, it suggests a TB infection, Cockey explained.

At that point, the individual undergoes a chest x-ray and is evaluated by a clinician to determine whether they have an active case of tuberculosis or a latent case.

Though patients with active TB are visibly sick and face anywhere from six months to two years of treatment, those with latent tuberculosis do not appear to be sick and are treated with a single medication for less than a year.

“With active TB, you’re sick,” he said. “The concern with latent TB is that someday you might become sick.”

Cockey said the health department had identified some individuals with latent tuberculosis but did not say how many.

Officials continue to stress the importance of testing in preventing further spread of the disease.

“It is important for students and parents to understand that being tested through tuberculin skin tests, and treatment if the test is positive, is the best way to avoid transmission of TB,” said Wicomico County Health Officer Lori Brewster.

A message on Salisbury University’s Student Health Services webpage advises anyone who is concerned to seek testing.

“SU and the Wicomico County Health Department will continue to collaborate on measures to minimize TB transmission,” it reads. “If anyone in the university community, as a precautionary measure, wishes to be tested, they should contact Student Health Services at 410-543-6262.”

Typically, Wicomico County experiences two to three active cases of tuberculosis a year. Statewide, there were 195 cases of TB in Maryland in 2014, according to Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.