HED:New TB case might not be linked to others

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

OKOLONA - At least one new case of tuberculosis has been confirmed here.

Health officials, however, say they don't believe it is related to an outbreak reported last month that resulted in 14 people being diagnosed with the disease.

"We do have one other case but we believe it is not related to the others," said Mike Holcombe, director of the state Department of Health's TB program. "We think it is just a routine TB case that we pick up periodically."

Last month, the department confirmed TB in 14 people in the Okolona area with at least nine of those - half of them children - believed to have contracted the disease from the same source which has not yet been identified.

As a result of the possible exposure to the airborne bacteria that causes TB, Holcombe said between 600 and 700 people have visited the Chickasaw County health department office for skin tests to detect the disease. More than 100 have been placed on preventive medication as a precaution against developing TB.

Because a large number of the confirmed cases involved children of about seventh-grade age, the health department ordered all students entering that grade at Okolona Elementary School to be tested.

Holcombe said officials still are trying to locate the source of the outbreak. The first step is to determine for sure that those infected were all infected by the same TB source. That is being done by growing samples of the bacteria taken from each patient and then comparing the DNA of those samples to find out if certain markers match up.

Those tests currently are under way but the results are not yet available.

"It can take six weeks for TB to grow in a culture so it's not an overnight test," Holcombe said.

The disease can, in fact, lie dormant in an infected person for as long as a decade before the person experiences any symptoms of the disease. Only people exhibiting symptoms are capable of passing along the bacteria, however.

Tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria transmitted through the air by an infected person. It can attack any part of the body but usually targets the lungs. Symptoms include coughing, weight loss, fever and night sweats. It can be treated by taking three or four drugs over a period of six months to a year.

Last year there were 250 reported cases of TB in Mississippi with 31 deaths of TB patients. Eleven of those cases were discovered upon the person's death and were probably directly attributable to the disease. Another 20 died while on treatment for TB and could have died from something other than the disease.

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