An uncomfortably high number of positive tests results for tuberculosis came back to a west Texas border senior day care center, putting city health officials on alert as they monitor the cases to see if any show signs of active TB.
The City of El Paso Department of Public Health confirmed Wednesday that 65 TB tests came back positive following the preliminary testing of 199 individuals in April. The health department began testing people at a local adult day care after one person in the center’s care tested positive for the sometimes fatal pulmonary disease.
The venue where the swarm of positive TB diagnoses occurred is the La Victoria Adult Day Care Center, according to the El Paso Times.
Officials believe all those tested may have had contact with patient zero. However, officials remain vigilant. More center members and workers could have been exposed to the bacteria.
“While this is a relatively high rate of positivity, we must also consider, among other factors, that any elderly population will likely have higher positivity rates due to prior exposure,” said Robert Resendes, El Paso Public Health Director, in a prepared statement.
He cautioned: “A positive test could be unrelated to this particular exposure event.”
So far, none of the the individuals testing positive exhibited active TB symptoms, say El Paso health department officials. Further testing will be conducted as part of an ongoing investigation to determine if others contracted the illness or if any of the 65 people begin to show active TB signs.
“What we want the attendees and the community at large to know is that there is a systematic process in place to ensure everyone’s safety,” added Resendes.
Those people who tested positive will receive detailed information on their results and undergo further health exams which include physical evaluations by Department of Public Health TB nurses along with chest X-rays at no cost to them, say local health officials.
TB is caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria which attacks the lungs, but it can damage other organs in the body including the kidneys, brain, or spine. The disease spreads from the coughs, sneezes, wheezes, and other respiratory fluids of a person with an active infection. It tends to affect people who spend time with an infected person every day, although El Paso health officials indicate catching TB may require close contact for extended periods of time.
Breitbart Texas reported TB can spread quickly once the bacteria becomes active because an individual will manifest symptoms like chest pain, muscle fatigue, weight loss, lethargy, and coughing up blood. Not everyone infected with TB gets sick if the bacteria remains dormant, considered latent TB.
Previously, El Paso health officials commented that El Paso’s rates for tuberculosis is “roughly double the nation’s'” and called this rate consistent with other “border communities.” TB rates are higher along the Texas-Mexico border. Co-infection with TB and diabetes is more common along the border than in the rest of the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).
The World Health Organization (WHO) lists TB one of the world’s top 10 causes of death, but it is curable with proper treatment. DSHS adds some TB strains are resistant to treatment drugs. In 2015, nine people in Texas were diagnosed with multidrug resistant TB but none of the state’s cases were extensively drug resistant, the most difficult form of the illness to treat.
People with compromised immune systems are most at-risk for contracting TB. That includes individuals with HIV/AIDS, diabetes, severe kidney disease, certain forms of cancer and cancer treatments, malnutrition, and drugs that treat ailments like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and Crohn’s disease, the Mayo Clinic reports. Infants, young children, and the elderly are part of the high risk group.
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