Tuberculosis update: No new cases reported, risk to campus ‘very low’

No new suspected cases of active tuberculosis have been reported at Northern Arizona University, while one international student is continuing to receive treatment at an in-patient facility for a likely case of active tuberculosis.

Those individuals who were known to be in prolonged, frequent or close contact with the student have been identified, tested and assessed for the need for preventive therapy.

“The Coconino County Health Department and Campus Health Services are diligently monitoring this illness and will remain vigilant in preventing its spread,” said Philip Gerrod, M.D., medical director for NAU Campus Health Services. “The risk of exposure to active TB is very low.”

TB is not spread by sharing a meal, kissing, using another’s toothbrush, shaking hands, or touching toilet seats, doorknobs or other surfaces. TB can be transmitted only when someone breathes in the respiratory droplets expelled by someone who is sick with TB.

However, people with TB disease are most likely to spread the germs to people they spend time with every day. Even then, only 22 percent of individuals will contract the disease even if they have prolonged, frequent or close contact with an individual with active TB disease.

The university is continuing to monitor the situation with the Coconino County Health Department and Flagstaff Medical Center to respond to, treat and prevent the spread of this disease.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in most people who breathe in the TB bacteria and become infected, the body is able to fight the bacteria and stop them from growing. The bacteria become inactive, but they remain alive in the body and can become active later. This is called latent TB infection, and the inactive germs cannot be passed on to anyone else. Many people who have latent TB infection never develop active TB disease. In these people, the TB bacteria remain inactive for a lifetime without causing disease. But in some people, especially people who have a weak immune system, the bacteria become active, multiply and cause active TB disease.

People with active TB disease can be treated if they seek medical help, and most people with latent TB infection can take medicine so that they will not develop active TB disease.

Those with questions about TB are encouraged to read this list of frequently asked questions prepared by NAU, or review this information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Additional questions can be directed to Campus Health Services at (928) 523-6343.