Tuberculosis case confirmed at Mesa Community College

Brandon Short | Contributor

According to a health official at San Diego Mesa College, a student contracted tuberculosis (TB), and may have exposed other students, staff, and faculty. The school believes nearly 100 people were exposed to the disease.

Anyone that may have come into contact with the student between Oct. 23 and Dec.17 has been notified and urged to get tested. San Diego Mesa College, which is located seven miles away from University of San Diego, is offering free testing to students, staff, and faculty who may have been exposed.

Tuberculosis, commonly known as TB, is a bacterial infection that can spread through the lymph nodes and bloodstream to any organ in the body, although the disease is most often found in the lungs.

People who are exposed to TB may never develop symptoms because the bacteria can live in an inactive form in the body. However, TB bacteria can become active in individuals with weak immune systems, such as in people with HIV or elderly adults. In their active state, TB bacteria cause death of tissue in the organs they infect. TB can be fatal if left untreated.         

Bacteria that causes TB are transmitted through the air that is highly contagious. Pamela Sikes, the director of the USD Student Health Center, elaborated on how the disease is spread.

“TB is caused by bacteria that spread from person to person through microscopic droplets released into the air,” Sikes said. “This can happen when someone with the untreated, active form of TB coughs, speaks, sneezes, spits, laughs, or sings.”

Since tuberculosis is an airborne bacteria students do not need to worry about catching the bacteria from shaking someone’s hand, sharing food or drinks, touching bed linens or toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes, or kissing.

While the disease must be taken seriously, it isn’t as contagious as some people believe. The likelihood of catching TB from your fellow student is possible but not probable.

“Although TB is contagious, it’s not easy to catch,” Sikes said. “You’re much more likely to get TB from someone you live with or work with and spend many hours with in close contact with than from a stranger. Most people with active TB who’ve had appropriate drug treatment for at least two weeks are no longer contagious.”

The symptoms to look out for are a bad cough that lasts more than three weeks, pain in the chest, coughing up blood, weakness or fatigue, weight loss, no appetite, chills, fever, and sweating at night.

  According to County Public Health Officer, Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H. there were 234 cases of TB reported in San Diego county last year and 220 cases reported in 2014. Other local schools that have had students affected in recent years include: Cal State San Marcos University, San Diego State University, Southwestern College, Castle Park High School, Helix High School, Lincoln High School, La Mesa Middle School, and Central Elementary School.

USD Senior Dakotah Quayle was surprised to have a case of TB occur so close to USD.

  “I’m pretty shocked to have such a rare disease pop up here in San Diego and even a former school of mine,” Quayle said. “I’m very grateful we live in a day and age that this can be treated with medication. I hope the student can stay positive through this difficult time and hopefully this will bring light to potential health risks for all students to be aware of.”

All incoming students at USD are required to have TB immunizations and screenings to protect the health and well-being of all its students, staff, and faculty.