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TB Cases Reported in Jefferson, Morgan Counties

By Associated Press

Birmingham – State health officials worked to track the potential spread of two separate tuberculosis cases in Jefferson and Morgan counties Thursday but said the incidents should not be cause for alarm.

Skin tests were done on 167 employees at Wayne Farms last week after a former worker at the Decatur poultry plant was diagnosed with an active case of the disease. The tests for 47 of the workers came up positive, but officials are still waiting for results from lung X-rays to see if any of those cases are active.

Tuberculosis is an airborne disease, and only active cases are contagious.

Large-scale testing began this week at SunGard, an information technology company, after an employee at its Inverness office was diagnosed with an active case of TB.

The employee was also a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, so 234 students who were taking one of three courses with the infected student will be tested.

Scott Jones, interim director of the health department's TB control division, said the state is still on track to have fewer cases this year than in 2006 despite the two incidents.

"We see cases in each area on an annual basis sometimes they spark attention as these have," he said.

Jones said Alabama has had 133 active TB cases so far in 2007 20 less than at this time last year. The state had fewer than 200 cases for the first time ever in 2006 when 196 cases were reported.

The Morgan County Department of Health injected the forearms of the Wayne Farms employees with testing solution Oct. 10. Health officials returned to the plant Friday to evaluate the injection sites.

Of those tested, 72 had direct contact with the hospitalized employee, health officials told The Decatur Daily. The remaining 127 voluntarily requested the free testing.

Of the 72 who had contact with the hospitalized employee, 38 percent (27 employees) were infected with the tuberculosis bacteria. Of those who had not had contact with the employee, 22 percent (20 employees) were infected.

Jones said the rate of infection was not unusual and fell within the normal range of 20-50 percent infection among those who've had close contact with an infected person.

Foreign-born people have a higher infection rate than those born in the United States. Jones said the high infection rate among those who had not had contact with the diseased employee likely reflected the fact that many Wayne Farms employees were born outside the United States.

Ninety percent of those infected with tuberculosis never develop symptoms and therefore don't become contagious.

But Jones said since their bodies continue to harbor the bacteria, deterioration in their immune systems at any time in their lives can trigger active tuberculosis.

He said the health department encourages each of the 47 Wayne Farms employees who tested positive to begin a six-month course of isoniazid in pill form.

The medication eliminates the infection. It also can cause vitamin deficiencies, so usually it is administered with vitamins.

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