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Published October 23, 2012, 11:30 PM

Officials alarmed by three TB cases in Grand Forks County

GRAND FORKS - Three confirmed cases of tuberculosis in Grand Forks County have state and local health officials launching an investigation to find out if more people are infected.

By: Brandi Jewett, Forum Communications, INFORUM

GRAND FORKS - Three confirmed cases of tuberculosis in Grand Forks County have state and local health officials launching an investigation to find out if more people are infected.

The cases — a man in his 20s and two men in their 40s — were confirmed over the past six weeks, said Dee Pritschet, North Dakota Department of Health tuberculosis specialist. Their proximity prompted the state to issue a news release Tuesday.

“We started seeing a pattern,” she said.

Tuberculosis, or TB, is a potentially lethal infection that usually attacks the lungs but also can affect the kidneys, spine and brain, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can spread through coughing, sneezing or even just speaking.

The state and Grand Forks Public Health say that, based on information they gathered, the three cases may be linked to previously confirmed cases in the area.

All three men have indicated they do not have permanent addresses and have been staying with relatives or friends. Health officials have begun calling people in close contact with the men and will evaluate and test these people if necessary.

The Grand Forks County cases bring the total number of confirmed TB cases in the state this year to 14. The other 11 cases are spread throughout the state, not clustered as is the case here, Pritschet said.

There were eight confirmed cases in the state last year, 11 in 2010, five in 2009 and three in 2008.

Compared to other states, North Dakota’s rate of TB infection is on the lower end. Last year, it ranked 44th among the states with one case per 100,000 residents, according to a CDC report. The national average was 3.4, the lowest since 1953, the earliest record in the report, when the average was 52.6.

“Years ago, in the time of our grandparents, TB wasn’t easy to treat,” said Delbert Streitz, emergency preparedness coordinator for Grand Forks Public Health.

Now treatment is available for the disease, but Pritschet cautions it’s still intensive — usually a six to nine month process involving several drugs.

Tuberculosis spreads through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks and nearby individuals breathe in the bacteria. It cannot be spread by sharing food or drink, shaking hands, touching linens or kissing.

Symptoms of TB include a cough lasting three weeks or more, coughing up blood, weight loss, feelings of weakness or fatigue, chest pain, fever, chills and night sweats.

“But just because you breathe it in doesn’t mean you’ll get sick,” Pritschet said. “You could have the infection and not even know it.”

Many people may be infected with TB, but their body is able to fight the bacteria and stop it from growing. As a result, they do not get sick and cannot spread the disease to others, according to the CDC.

But there’s always a chance the bacteria will revive and make them sick in the future.

A blood test or a skin test can detect TB. If someone has a positive reaction to either test, other test may be conducted to determine if it is active or latent TB, according to the CDC.

Those who think they have been exposed to TB should contact their physician or Grand Forks Public Health at (701) 787-8100.

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